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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

R.I.P. Clive Cussler, prolific author and explorer

Illustration for article titled R.I.P. Clive Cussler, prolific author and explorer
Photo: Ulf Andersen (Getty Images)

Clive Cussler, the prolific, bestselling writer behind dozens of maritime thrillers, has died. His publisher, Penguin Random House, confirmed his death, per the New York Times, though no specific cause was given. He was 88.


An explorer as well as a writer, Cussler scoured the ocean depths to explore a number of historic shipwrecks and uncover around 60 more, including the Manassas, the Confederacy’s first Civil War ironclad. He also served as the founder and chairman of the National Underwater and Marine Agency, an organization that existed in his books before it did the real world. “I have never made claim to being an archaeologist,” he wrote on the agency’s website. “I’m purely a dilettante who loves the challenge of solving a mystery; and there is no greater mystery than a lost shipwreck.”

It was for his books, however, that most people know Cussler. A consistent presence at any airport retailer, Cussler began his career with two novels, The Mediterranean Caper and Iceberg, that, per the Times, he only got published after posing as the old colleague of a prominent agent and, as part of the ruse, recommending they be published. But it was his third book, 1976's Raise The Titanic!, that made a real splash—it sold more than a hundred thousand copies before being made into a 1980 film with Richard Jordan and Jason Robards Jr.

His greatest creation was Dirk Pitt, a charming undersea explorer who headlined 25 of Cussler’s novels, including 1992's Sahara, which was adapted into a 2005 film starring Matthew McConaughey and Penélope Cruz. Sahara was meant to start a Dirk Pitt franchise, but the film’s box office failure and subsequent legal drama ensured that didn’t pan out. Despite Cussler’s prolificacy, Sahara and Raise The Titanic! remain the only film adaptations of his books.

Cussler pivoted between a number of franchises. Other heroes at the forefront of his stories include The Fargo AdventuresSam and Remi Fargo, The NUMA Files’ Kurt Austin, and The Isaac Bell Adventures’ namesake character. It’s also safe to say we probably wouldn’t have the wildly popular Uncharted video game series if not for the works of Cussler.


In total, he has 85 books under his belt that, per the Times, have sold no fewer than 100 million copies.

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.