William Diehl, best-selling author of “Primal Fear” and other novels, has died at Emory University Hospital. He was 81.
Diehl died Friday, said Sarah Carter of H.M. Patterson & Son funeral home in Atlanta. He died of aortic embolism, said his wife, Virginia Gunn.
He started on his first novel, “Sharky’s Machine,” while serving as a juror. Diehl, then 50, was bored by the trial and started writing fiction on a notepad. The book, published in 1978, became a best-seller and — later — a movie starring Burt Reynolds.
Diehl was unemployed when he got the news that the book was going to be published, his longtime friend Michael Parver said. When his agent first called to tell him, the phone line went dead. Diehl hadn’t paid the bill, Parver told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Diehl’s friends and relatives were turned into characters in his later works. Parver became a dirty cop in the novel “Hooligans.”
The author’s other novels included “Primal Fear,” a 1993 thriller about a lawyer defending a young man accused of slaying an archbishop. It was turned into the 1996 film starring Richard Gere and Edward Norton.
Diehl was writing his 10th novel at the time of his death. It was expected to be published sometime next year, his friends said.
Diehl was formerly a writer for the Journal-Constitution, and had been a freelance photographer and magazine editor. Diehl was also a World War II veteran, serving as a ball turret gunner aboard a B-24 bomber.