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Hailed as one of the world’s best adventure writers, Wilbur Smith passed away unexpectedly at his home in Cape Town on Saturday

Following a career spanning nearly six decades and 49 books, bestselling author Wilbur Smith has died. He was 88.

Internationally renowned for his adventure stories, an obituary posted on shared that the legendary author passed away unexpectedly on Saturday with his wife Niso by his side. In a statement included with the obituary, Smith’s literary agent, Kevin Conroy Scott, called the author a larger than life icon, beloved by fans who passed his work down through generations:

“His knowledge of Africa, and his imagination knew no limits. His work ethic and his powerful, elegant writing style made him known to millions. I cherish the role of working side by side with his wife Niso and the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation to keep the flame of his fictional universe alive for many years to come.”

Smith signing copies of his book The Quest in 2007. Photo: Ron Hogan

Author of the wildly popular Courtney Novels, a series of 17 books which chronicle the Courtney family from the 1660s until 1987, Smith was working as an accountant with the South African Revenue Service  when the publication of his first novel, When The Lion Feeds, changed his life. The money from the book allowed him to leave his job and write full-time, hiring a caravan to park in the mountains and work on his second book, The Dark of The Sun.

Smith’s novels would go on to spawn eight films adaptations and sell more than 120 million copies. Commenting on the process of adapting his work to film, the author said “At first I didn’t have complete control over the screenplays when my novels were turned into films. Now I tell the producer and director that they either use my screenplay or else there is no movie. That saves a lot of time.”

Smith’s books have sold more than 120 million copies worldwide, making him one of the bestselling adventure writers of all time. Photo: Public Domain.

Born in 1933 in Kabwe, Zambia, the author’s early years were spent roaming his parents’ cattle ranch with his sister, a backdrop which would form the basis for much of his writing. Educated at Michaelhouse in the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands, his father’s advice that he get a ‘real job’ squashed his dream of becoming a journalist, leading to him graduating from Rhodes University in 1954 with a Bachelor of Commerce.

“My father was a man of action and my mother was an artist, a very gentle person who loved books and loved painting,” he said in an interview with The Big Issue in 2018. “I have many of her paintings to this day. My father taught me about the outdoor life and my mother gave me the other side of the mirror with music and books, and before I could read myself, she’d read to me every night. My father thought that reading too much was unhealthy. He only read non-fiction, mostly manuals about how to fix things on the ranch.”

Smith is survived by his wife, Mokhiniso, his four children and numerous grandchildren.