John Le Carre, Iconic Cold War Spy Novelist, Dies At 89
Celebrated spy novelist John le Carré (born David Cornwell) died on Saturday at 89 years old as a result of pneumonia-related health complications, his longtime agent Jonny Geller confirmed. In a lengthy statement from himself and Cornwell’s family, he detailed Cornwell’s legacy.
“For six decades, John le Carré dominated the bestseller lists and review pages with his monumental body of work,” Geller wrote. “Devoting his life to writing, he went on to define the Cold War era with the help of his character, George Smiley, and through his complex plots and beautiful prose, beamed a harsh light at the injustices of our world.”
Smiley was Cornwell’s most famous character, and though he was introduced in Coldwell’s Call for the Dead, he was made popular by the novel The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. The novel is known for pioneering the espionage sub-genre in literature, and has been met with international critical acclaim. Having worked for both the U.K.’s Security Service (MI5) and its Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Cornwell’s work is lauded for its unheroic, romanticized portrayal of British Intelligence agents.
Cornwell is also known for his outspoken commentary on politics. In 2003, he published his essay “The United States Has Gone Mad” in The Times, which staunchly criticized President George W. Bush and his response to the 9/11 attacks. Since 2017, he expressed concerns over the West’s seeming gravitation away from liberal democracy and towards fascism, including Donald Trump‘s oligarchical “contempt … for the electorate and for the democratic system.” He’s compared Trump to Nazi leaders in the past, and insisted that he was subservient to Putin and Russia. Most recently, he’s criticized Brexit, and conservative politicians such as Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and Nigel Farage.
Aside from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and his politics, Cornwell is famous for his other novels The Looking Glass War, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley’s People, The Little Drummer Girl, The Night Manager, The Tailor of Panama, The Constant Gardener, A Most Wanted Man, and Our Kind of Traitor, all of which have been adapted for the screen. In his career, he wrote 25 novels and a memoir, and has sold over 60 million books worldwide.
In his statement, Geller paid tribute to how iconic Cornwell’s works have become.
“His like will never be seen again, and his loss will be felt by every book lover, everyone interested in the human condition,” the agent wrote. “We have lost a great figure of English literature, a man of great wit, kindness, humour and intelligence. I have lost a friend, a mentor and an inspiration.”
He also added a short message directly from Cornwell’s family.
“It is with great sadness that we must confirm that David Cornwell – John le Carré – passed away from pneumonia last Saturday night after a short battle with the illness,” they wrote. “David is survived by his beloved wife of almost fifty years, Jane, and his sons Nicholas, Timothy, Stephen and Simon. We all grieve deeply his passing. Our thanks go to the wonderful NHS team at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro for the care and compassion that he was shown throughout his stay. We know they share our sadness.”
On Twitter, fans mourned the iconic writer’s death with iconic quotes of his.
We were sorry to hear about the death of best-selling crime novelist John le Carré. We will always think fondly of his tremendous introduction to "The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes," and in particular this wonderful paragraph. pic.twitter.com/gVknPmyVkV
— However Improbable podcast (@ImprobablePod) December 14, 2020
“We were sorry to hear about the death of best-selling crime novelist John le Carré,” one Twitter user wrote. “We will always think fondly of his tremendous introduction to “The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes,” and in particular this wonderful paragraph.”
The paragraph, an analysis of Sherlock Holmes’ relationship with John Watson, was captured in a screenshot.
"My England would be the one that recognises its place in the EU. The jingoistic England that is trying to march us out of the EU, that is an England I don't want to know."
David Cornwell, alias John Le Carré, 1931 – 2020.
— Simon Gosden. Esq. #fbpe 3.5% 🕷🇪🇺🇬🇧🏴☠️🦠🦠 (@g_gosden) December 14, 2020
“‘My England would be the one that recognises its place in the EU,'” another user quoted Cornwell. “‘The jingoistic England that is trying to march us out of the EU, that is an England I don’t want to know.'”
RIP John LeCarré. “The right side lost, but the wrong side won.”
— G— M— (@moon_marquis) December 14, 2020
“RIP John LeCarré,” a fan tweeted. “‘The right side lost, but the wrong side won,'” they briefly quoted the novelist.