Tom Clancy, Whose Novels Conjured Threats to U.S., Dies at 66

Tom Clancy, whose chillingly realistic novels such as “The Hunt for Red October” reflected his knowledge of the military and the changing nature of threats to the U.S. while providing Hollywood with fodder for blockbuster movies, has died. He was 66.

He died Oct. 1 in Baltimore, his hometown, according to an e-mailed statement from Penguin Group, his publisher. Clancy died at Johns Hopkins Hospital following a brief illness, according to the Baltimore Sun.

His biggest hits featured the character Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst whose smarts and bravery stand out among the lesser lights of the government employees around him. He rises through the ranks all the way to the Oval Office. Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck played Ryan in film versions of Clancy’s books. A movie based on the character, “Jack Ryan: Shadow One,” is scheduled for release in December.

Later novels were built around John Clark, a veteran of U.S. Navy special operations. Clancy also wrote a series on real-life military leaders.

Clancy’s novels that reached No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list include “The Hunt for Red October” (1984), “Patriot Games” (1987), “Clear and Present Danger” (1989), “The Sum of All Fears” (1991) and “The Bear and the Dragon” (2000). His publisher said his 17th novel, “Command Authority,” is due out in December.

‘Consummate Author’

“He was a consummate author, creating the modern-day thriller, and was one of the most visionary storytellers of our time,” David Shanks, chief executive officer of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., said yesterday in the statement. Penguin Group is a unit of Penguin Random House, which is owned by Bertelsmann SE, based in Guetersloh, Germany, and Pearson Plc., based in London.

The company Clancy co-founded in 1996, Red Storm Entertainment Inc., makes video games including the “Ghost Recon” and “Rainbow Six” series. UbiSoft Entertainment SA, based in Montreuil, France, bought Red Storm in 2000 for $45 million.

His 1994 novel “Debt of Honor,” proved eerily prescient, its plot culminating in a then-unthinkable breach of U.S. air defenses: a Boeing 747 jetliner, under the control of a suicidal terrorist pilot, crashing into the U.S. Capitol during the president’s State of the Union address.

The book got a burst of renewed publicity after real hijackers turned airplanes into missiles on Sept. 11, 2001.

Government Failure

In its final report, released in 2004, the U.S. commission that studied the 9/11 attacks found that the government had suffered a “failure of imagination” in not grasping the capabilities and intentions of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terror group.

“We were often advised during the course of the hearings to read very imaginative writers, like Tom Clancy, and encouraged to think outside the box,” said the commission’s vice chairman, former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton.

Clancy said in an interview that he had little faith in U.S. authorities to outwit their enemies.

“I don’t see much imagination in government, except maybe looking for new ways to take money in taxes,” he said.

Thomas Leo Clancy Jr. was born on April 12, 1947, in Baltimore, the middle child of three, according to a 1998 profile in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. His father, Thomas, worked for the U.S. Postal Service. His mother, Catherine, went to work to help put Clancy through private Catholic high school.

He graduated from Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, where, he said, he was president of the chess club and “had a reputation for dealing with abstract problems.”

Plot Genesis

He said the roots of his “Debt of Honor” terrorist hijacking plot came from a college discussion.

“A guy sat down in my chess club office and said, ‘How do you destroy the whole government?’” he recalled. “We both agreed that using nuclear weapons was cheating, so we scratched that out. It took us a couple minutes to come up with a way to do it. It’s actually rather obvious.”

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English in 1969, he worked for an insurer in Connecticut, then returned to Maryland to work for his wife’s family as an insurance broker. Though never in the military -- the near-sightedness that rendered him service-ineligible also required his trademark thick glasses -- he had military clients through the insurance business, according to the Baltimore Sun.

His first book based on his military interest was “The Hunt for Red October,” about the captain of a Soviet nuclear submarine trying to defect to the U.S.

First Fee

Clancy sold the book to the U.S. Naval Institute Press, which, according to the Washington Post, initially paid him $5,000.

Clancy was a part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles and served as the team’s vice chairman for community projects and public affairs.

Peter Angelos, the team’s majority owner and chairman, said yesterday in a statement that Clancy “was a regular presence at Oriole Park and enjoyed talking about baseball, the ball club and its operations.”

Clancy is survived by his wife, Alexandra Llewellyn Clancy, and their daughter Alexis Jacqueline Page Clancy. Additional survivors include children from a previous marriage to Wanda King: daughters Michelle Bandy, Christine Blocksidge and Kathleen Clancy and son Thomas Clancy III.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.