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Thomas Harris

Thomas Harris

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BIOGRAPHY

the brilliant flesh-eating psychopath, Hannibal Lecter. Famously reclusive, the publicity-shy Harris is reportedly (and thankfully) far different from his signature character, who made his first appearance in the writer's second thriller novel, Red Dragon (1981). Already a bankable scribe, thanks to the success of his debut, Black Sunday (1975), and its high-profile 1977 movie adaptation, Harris saw Red Dragon hit the screens as Michael Mann's "Manhunter" (1986), with initially underwhelming response. His third novel, The Silence of the Lambs (1988), was a huge hit, however, and made Lecter a key character. Its 1991 film version, marking the first appearance of Anthony Hopkins as the manipulative cannibal, proved to be both a critical darling and box-office smash, resulting in a cultural breakthrough for the actor and character, as well as Harris himself. Though Harris' post-Lambs output of Hannibal (1999) and Hannibal Rising (2006) were major publishing events, their poor critical reception diminished the author's reputation somewhat. However, the tense strengths of his pre-1990s work ensured that Harris was still considered a master of the thriller genre.

Born in Tennessee and raised in Mississippi, Harris was a quiet youth and went on to study English literature while attending college at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. As a journalist for the local paper, he had his first encounters with crime scenes and continued to work as a reporter until his debut novel, Black Sunday, was published. The book, which featured a suicidal Vietnam vet eager to sabotage the Super Bowl, met with a decent reception upon its 1975 release, but it gained a more prominent second life when it became the basis for the John Frankenheimer feature thriller of the same name, starring Bruce Dern and Robert Shaw. In 1981, Harris unveiled Red Dragon, which follows high-strung FBI profiler Will Graham as he tracks down a murderer, using the help of incarcerated serial killer Hannibal Lecter. The Hollywood adaptation arrived five years later as "Manhunter," with William Petersen as Graham and Brian Cox as his jailed and unlikely ally. Though the film was largely overlooked during its theatrical run, it later gained a cult following. Harris' The Silence of the Lambs followed in 1988, introducing readers to intuitive FBI agent Clarice Starling and pushing Lecter to the fore as he aids in her hunt for the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill.

In 1991, Jonathan Demme's movie adaptation hit the screens, with Jodie Foster as Starling and Anthony Hopkins as Lecter. The moody film was a massive hit, won Five Academy Awards and gained status as one of the all-time best cinematic thrillers. Despite his lack of direct involvement, the production was a feather in Harris' cap, especially in Hopkins' riveting portrayal of Lecter and its overall enduring influence. In no hurry to pen a Lambs sequel, Harris didn't resurface with Hannibal until 1999, with the highly anticipated book an instant literary blockbuster, despite what many readers considered to be a controversial ending. Ridley Scott's fittingly dark and disturbing movie adaptation followed less than two years later, with Hopkins returning as Lecter and Julianne Moore taking over the Starling role.

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