Wilbur Smith dead: International bestselling author dies aged 88

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Internationally acclaimed author Wilbur Smith has died in South Africa aged 88 (AFP via Getty Images)
Internationally acclaimed author Wilbur Smith has died in South Africa aged 88 (AFP via Getty Images)

International bestselling author Wilbur Smith died on Saturday afternoon at the age of 88, his publicist has said.

“We are sorry to announce that the beloved, global bestselling author Wilbur Smith passed away unexpectedly this afternoon at his Cape Town home, with his wife Niso by his side,” wrote Smith’s office on Twitter. “We are so grateful to his millions of fans across the world who cherished his incredible writing and joined us all on his amazing adventures.”

Smith’s long-time literary agent Kevin Conroy Scott described him as “an icon, larger than life, beloved by his fans who collected his books in hardbacks and passed his work down through generations, fathers to sons and mothers to daughters”.

The novelist published 49 books in his long career, sold more than 140 million copies worldwide and had his works translated into around 30 languages.

Kate Parkin, managing director of adult trade publishing for Bonnier Books UK, said that Smith’s “seemingly inexhaustible creative energy and passion for storytelling will long live on in the hearts and minds of readers everywhere”.

Known for his adventure writing, Smith’s stories spanned historic junctures in Africa’s past, such as the dawn of colonialism and apartheid. He wrote about the First and Second World Wars and ancient Egypt too.

His debut 1964 novel When the Lion Feeds was influenced by his own experience of running wild on his parents’ cattle ranch where he grew up, his website obituary reads. Smith’s other bestsellers include River God and The Triumph of the Sun.

And according to Ms Parkin, “he leaves behind him a treasure-trove of novels, as well as completed and yet to be published co-authored books and outlines for future stories”.

Born in Zambia to a British family in 1933, Smith’s life was as eventful as his work, travelling the world to seek inspiration and marrying four times.

“Another marriage producing a son failed, and then he met young divorcee Danielle Thomas whom he married in 1971 until she died from brain cancer in 1999, following a six-year illness,” his obituary chronicles. “It wasn’t until he met his fourth wife, Mokhiniso Rakhimova from Tajikistan, in a bookshop near Sloane Square in London, that Wilbur found true happiness and peace of mind. They married in May 2000.”

In his 2018 memoir On Leopard Rock, Smith wrote that he wants to be “remembered as somebody who gave pleasure to millions”.

“I’ve had tough times, bad marriages, people I loved dearly dying in my arms, burnt the midnight oil getting nowhere, but it has, all in the end, added up to a phenomenally fulfilled and wonderful life,” the memoir reads.

Smith is survived by his wife Mokhiniso Rakhimova and four children.

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