J.D. Salinger

Evening Standard/Getty Images

J.D. Salinger probably wouldn't want you to read this.

The devoutly private author of The Catcher in the Rye, who denounced publishing, refused interviews and declined Hollywood's advances to turn his seminal novel of alienation, hunting caps and phonies into a movie, died Wednesday at his longtime New Hampshire hideaway, it was revealed today. He was 91.

Salinger's signature—and only—novel was published in 1951. The story of Holden Caufield would go on to influence a universe's worth of loner tales and, more darkly, prove a touchstone for John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman.

"I'm known as a strange, aloof kind of man," Salinger actually told a newspaper, the New York Times, in 1974. "But all I'm trying to do is trying to protect myself and my work."

Publishing, Salinger said, was "a terrible invasion of my privacy."

And so Salinger stopped publishing: not a single novel after Catcher, not a single short-story collection after 1961's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, not a single short story after 1965's "Hapworth 16, 1924." (Click here for an archive of all Salinger stories as published in the New Yorker.)

According to Hollywood lore, Steven Spielberg, former Miramax mogul Harvey Weinstein and the late legend Billy Wilder were among those who tried, but failed, to secure the movie rights to Catcher.  

Try though he might, Salinger never truly succeeded at disappearing. His Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey, both story collections, have been name-checked almost as much as Catcher. (Wikipedia's attempt to categorize Catcher's numerous pop-culture references and progeny can be found here.)

In late 1980, Catcher forever became associated with delusional—and armed—young men when a camp counselor named Mark David Chapman carried a well-read copy to his deadly encounter with the Beatles' Lennon.  (The Jared Leto-Lindsay Lohan movie Chapter 27 is devoted to Chapman's toxic Holden Caulfield complex.) Just a month later, in 1981, the novel was found in the hotel room of John Hinckley Jr., the would-be assassin of President Ronald Reagan.

What Salinger thought, if anything, of Chapman and his ilk, we don't know: His last interview, with the Paris Review, appeared in the summer of 1980.

With Salinger on the sidelines, glimpses of the author came through others' unflattering portraits of him: former lover Joyce Maynard's At Home in the World; and, daughter Margaret Salinger's Dream Catcher: A Memoir.

In addition to his daughter, Salinger's survivors include a son, the actor Matt Salinger (Captain America).

(Originally published Jan. 28, 2010, at 12:02 p.m. PT)


For our complete archive of celebrity obituaries click here.

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Share