Hubert Selby Jr., the acclaimed and anguished author of “Last Exit to Brooklyn” and “Requiem for a Dream,” died Monday of a lung disease, his wife said. He was 75.
Selby died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at his home in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles, said his wife of 35 years, Suzanne.
Born in New York City, Selby’s experience among Brooklyn’s gritty longshoremen, homeless and the down-and-out formed the basis for his lauded 1964 novel “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” which was made into a film in 1989.
“It was a seminal piece of work. It broke so many traditions,” said Jim Regan, head of the master’s of professional writing program at the University of Southern California, where Selby taught as an adjunct professor for the past 20 years.
“There was that generation of writers: William Burroughs, Henry Miller, and there was Hubert Selby. And he’s one of the last of that generation, of some of the greatest writers in this country.”
Suffered from depressionSuzanne Selby said her late husband was kind and generous but in recent years suffered from depression and occasionally would launch into rages.
“He screamed, he yelled, he broke things,” she said. “But he did not have rages when he was writing.”
Selby shared screenwriting credit on the 2000 film version of his 1978 novel “Requiem for a Dream,” a harrowing look inside a family’s many addictions. His other novels include “The Room” (1971), “The Demon” (1976) and “The Willow Tree” (1998). A collection of short stories, “Song of the Silent Snow,” was published in 1986.
Selby continued to work on screenplays and teach at USC until he was hospitalized last month. He had been in and out of the hospital in recent weeks and died with his wife by his side, she said.
He contracted tuberculosis as a child and had suffered from breathing problems ever since, Suzanne Shelby said. He was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease several years ago.
One line unfinishedSelby often wrote at an apartment he kept in West Hollywood. He worked in a bedroom there for at least five hours most days, and always left one line unfinished at night to have a place to start the next morning, Suzanne Selby said.
She said that he had battled addictions, but while much of his work dealt with the topic, he always wrote while sober and had not had any alcohol or any drugs since 1969.
Along with his wife, he is survived by four children and 11 grandchildren.