Pat Conroy


Writer

About

Also Known As
Donald Patrick Conroy
Birth Place
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Born
October 26, 1945

Biography

Considered one of the finest Southern writers of his generation, author Pat Conroy's tales of domineering fathers and dysfunctional families provided material for some of film's greatest actors. After an early daunting attempt at a teaching career, Conroy channeled the deeply affecting experience into the memoir The Water is Wide, which was quickly adapted as the feature film "Conrack" (...

Family & Companions

Barbara Bolling
Wife
Married in 1969; divorced in 1977.
Lenore Gurewitz
Wife
Second wife; married in 1981; divorced.
Sandra Ray
Wife
Author. Married on June 7, 1998; third marriage for both.

Bibliography

"My Losing Season"
Pat Conroy (2002)
"Pat Conroy: A Critical Companion"
Landon C. Burns, Greenwood Publishing Group (1996)
"Beach Music"
Pat Conroy, Nan A Talese/Doubleday (1995)
"The Prince of Tides"
Pat Conroy, Houghton Mifflin (1986)

Biography

Considered one of the finest Southern writers of his generation, author Pat Conroy's tales of domineering fathers and dysfunctional families provided material for some of film's greatest actors. After an early daunting attempt at a teaching career, Conroy channeled the deeply affecting experience into the memoir The Water is Wide, which was quickly adapted as the feature film "Conrack" (1974), starring John Voight as the young author. Conroy found even greater success when he mined his difficult adolescence and frequently violent home life for a pair of novels that were each subsequently made into the films "The Great Santini" (1979) - featuring a tour de force performance by Robert Duvall - and "The Lords of Discipline" (1983), the latter inspired by Conrad's challenging time at The Citadel, a revered military college. First as a novel and then a feature film co-scripted by Conroy, "The Prince of Tides" (1991) brought the novelist the greatest critical acclaim of his career and earned an Oscar nomination for the film's star, Nick Nolte. Although Hollywood collaborations later tapered off, Conroy nonetheless continued to enthrall readers with such bestsellers as 1995's The Beach House and 2009's South of Broad. In using fiction as a means of coming to terms with an often tumultuous and painful past, Conroy allowed millions of readers and moviegoers to do the same, while still finding themselves swept away by the lyrical realism of his tales filled with love, loss and the bonds of friendship. Pat Conroy died of pancreatic cancer on March 4, 2016 at the age of 70.

Born Donald Patrick Conroy on Oct. 26, 1945 in Atlanta, GA, he was the first of seven children born to Frances and Colonel Donald Conroy, a Marine fighter pilot. A career soldier hailing from Chicago, IL, Conroy's father was a stern disciplinarian, later characterized by his son as being an abusive and often violent man, "whose biggest mistake was allowing a novelist to grow up in his home." A native of Georgia, Conroy's mother, known to friends and family as "Peggy," was a lover of art and literature who passed her appreciation along to her oldest child. As a self-described "military brat," Conroy's childhood was a nomadic one, to say the least. By his estimation, Conroy's family moved some 23 times by the time he was 15, with an early stay at California's El Toro Military Base diluting the accent one would have expected from a Southern man. In addition to a growing love of language, Conroy loved basketball, particularly after a momentous game in which his fifth grade team managed to defeat an intimidating team of sixth graders. After years on the move, the family eventually settled in the town of Beaufort, SC, where Conroy attended high school. It was there that the young man encountered one the most influential figures of his young life, an English teacher by the name of Eugene Norris, who introduced Conroy to the works of Thomas Wolfe and encouraged his interest in writing.

Conroy graduated from Beaufort High School in 1963 and at the insistence of his father, enrolled at The Citadel, South Carolina's historic military college. As a young cadet, Conroy excelled in both academics and sports, playing as a starting guard for The Citadel Bulldogs NCAA Division 1 basketball team. Yet despite these achievements, the institutionalized discipline practiced at the military college - at times, in the view of Conroy, crossing over into harassment and racism - reminded him of the abuse he and his family had long endured at the hands of his father. As such, Conroy's time at the school informed his world view and future writings in ways that would soon become apparent. Shortly after graduating from The Citadel in 1967, Conroy began his first serious attempt as an author, penning The Boo, a collection of anecdotes about a beloved instructor he had admired during his time at The Citadel, Lt. Colonel Thomas "The Boo" Courvoise. When no publisher showed interest in the book, the do-it-yourself-minded Conroy eventually took out a loan and self-published The Boo a few years later. It was also during this time that Conroy returned to Beaufort High to teach English at the height of the turbulent Civil Rights Movement. After being rebuked for instituting a black history course by the integration-resistant school administration, an incensed Conroy quit his job and applied for work with the Peace Corps in 1968. Assigned to a teaching position at an elementary school on South Carolina's isolated and impoverished Daufuskie Island later that year, the rebellious Conroy soon found himself at odds with his new employers once again. Having become deeply invested in the underprivileged students he was attempting to reach, Conroy raised money for a field trip after being told the school lacked funds. Viewed as a non-conformist from the start - he refused to administer corporal punishment - Conroy was asked to resign by the end of the school year. He did not and was subsequently fired.

Accompanying Conroy to Daufuskie Island was Barbara Bolling Jones, who he had met while teaching in Beaufort. The recent widow of an Air Force pilot shot down in Vietnam and the mother of two, Jones married Conroy in 1969 and adopted her children. With a pair of failed teaching attempts already under his belt, the 25-year-old Conroy put a career as an educator behind him and focused his energy on his writing. The result was the memoir The Water is Wide in which the fictional island of Yamacraw stood in for Daufuskie, where Conroy began a quixotic effort to combat entrenched racism of the school district. Published in 1972, the breakout novel won Conroy the Humanitarian Award from the National Education Association and was soon adapted into the feature film "Conrack" (1974), starring Jon Voight as Conroy, whose name was pronounced "Conrack" due to the students' unique coastal dialect. Continuing to mine his own past for his literary endeavors, Conroy next delved into even deeper emotional territory with his semi-autobiographical novel, 1976's The Great Santini. The story of hard-nosed fighter pilot Wilbur "Bull" Meecham and the love-hate relationship his often abusive parenting tactics engendered with his oldest son Ben, the book laid bare age old wounds from Conroy's childhood.

While the novel made Conroy a rising star in the publishing world, it also began a painful period of estrangement from members of his family, who viewed it as a betrayal and the airing of the family's dirty laundry. The increased isolation also took a toll on Conroy's marriage, and by 1977, he and Barbara had divorced. Further establishing his name in the minds of the public was the well-received feature film adaptation of "The Great Santini" (1979), with revered actor Robert Duvall playing the titular patriarch and Michael O'Keefe as Ben. For their work in the film, both actors garnered Academy Award nominations. Directly on the heels of this latest cinematic milestone was Conroy's second fiction novel The Lords of Discipline (1980), although once again, the source material for the book was readily apparent to anyone who knew Conroy's past. Set at the fictional Carolina Military Institute, the novel follows Cadet Will McLean as he struggles with the inherent brutality of the school's pledge system and uncovers a dangerous secret society within the student body. Although a work of fiction, many alumni from The Citadel took offense at the book, as they felt it depicted their alma mater in an unflattering light. Married for a second time in 1981 to Lenore Gurewitz - a woman the author would later describe as "the agent of my great passion and my even greater ruin" - Conroy later enjoyed further notoriety when "The Lords of Discipline" (1983) was adapted for the screen. Starring David Keith as McLean, it placed the focus on the controversial admittance of the Institute's first African-American student, and McLean's confrontation with the malevolent brotherhood known as "The Ten."

In a recurring theme throughout his life, Conroy's professional accomplishments were often marred by personal tragedy. Such was the case when the author's beloved mother Peggy died of leukemia in 1984 at the age of 59. And while his earlier novels had garnered considerable praise and been translated to film, none of the books had sold in blockbuster numbers. That all changed with the release of The Prince of Tides in 1986. An intricately-woven story that spanned a lifetime, it begins with out-of-work teacher Tom Wingo traveling to New York City at the request of his suicidal sister's psychiatrist. As he and Dr. Lowenstein delve into the Wingo family's harrowing past in an effort to help his troubled sibling, Tom forms a deep personal bond with the attractive doctor and begins a much needed healing process of his own. An instant New York Times bestseller, it vaulted Conroy into the pantheon of great modern American storytellers. Conroy later received his first screenwriting credit for "Unconquered" (CBS, 1989), a based-on-fact story of the Civil Rights Movement starring Peter Coyote and Dermott Mulroney as a father and son combating racial intolerance despite pressure from their Southern community.

Conroy's best regarded novel soon became his most successful film adaptation when "The Prince of Tides" (1991) was brought to life by actress-director-producer Barbara Streisand. Starring Nick Nolte as Tom and Streisand as Dr. Lowenstein and co-scripted by Conroy and Becky Johnston, the film was a box-office smash, garnering Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. For his gut-wrenching portrayal of Tom Wingo, Nolte earned a Best Actor nomination. Once again, highs were tempered by a series of lows, when in 1994, Conroy's younger brother Tom, who had long suffered from mental illness, committed suicide. The following year, which saw the publication of Conroy's latest bestseller The Beach House, also marked the demise of his second marriage. The cycle continued in 1997 when Conroy married successful author Cassandra King in 1997, only to lose his father, with whom he had reconciled in recent years, to colon cancer the following year. Early in the new millennium, Conroy returned to this days as a basketball player at the Citadel with the memoir My Losing Season in 2002. Four years later, a more straightforward adaptation of his early memoir "The Water is Wide" (CBS, 2006) aired with actor Jeff Hephner playing the young, idealistic Conroy. His next novel of family bonds and personal healing, South of Broad, was published in 2009, the same year Conroy was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame. Ending the decade, the author released 2010's, My Reading Life. Part memoir, part "best of" list, it chronicled Conroy's lifelong love of literature and the profound impact certain authors had on his life. Conroy's final published work during his lifetime was the memoir The Death of Santini, exploring his conflicted feelings following the death of his father, the inspiration for one of his best-known characters. Pat Concroy died of pancreatic cancer on March 4, 2016 in Beaufort, South Carolina. He was 70 years old.

By Bryce P. Coleman

Life Events

1969

Worked as schoolteacher in Daufuski, SC

1970

Published debut non-fiction book <i>The Boo</i>, a collection of anecdotes about cadet life

1972

Wrote memoir <i>The Water is Wide</i> based on his experiences as a schoolteacher

1973

First feature film based on his work, "Conrack" (adapted from <i>The Water Is Wide</i>)

1976

Published first novel <i>The Great Santini</i>

1979

Feature adaptation "The Great Santini" released, starring Robert Duvall and Blythe Danner

1986

Wrote acclaimed novel <i>The Prince of Tides</i>

1989

Wrote CBS movie "Unconquered"

1991

Co-wrote screen adaptation "The Prince of Tides," directed by and starring Barbra Streisand

1995

Published coming-of-age novel <i>Beach Music</i>

1999

Wrote <i>The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life</i>

2006

Book inspired CBS movie "The Water is Wide"

2009

Inducted into South Carolina Hall of Fame

Videos

Movie Clip

Prince Of Tides, The (1991) - I Enjoy Hating Her! From his narrated family history prologue of his South Carolina coastal childhood, from the original Pat Conroy novel, Nick Nolte as Tom Wingo with his daughters (Lindsay Wray, Maggie Collier, Brandlyn Whitaker) and wife Sallie (Blythe Danner), director and co-star Barbra Streisand shooting on location in Beaufort, in The Prince Of Tides, 1991.
Prince Of Tides, The (1991) - I Won't Use Your Name At a Manhattan psychiatric facility, teacher and football coach Tom Wingo (Nick Nolte) from South Carolina confronts Dr. Lowenstein (Barbra Streisand, who also directed) about the treatment of his suicidal sister, leading to an initial detente, in The Prince Of Tides, 1991, from the Pat Conroy novel.
Prince Of Tides, The (1991) - I Wish She Was Cynical In from South Carolina, summoned by psychiatrist Dr. Lowenstein (Barbra Streisand, also the director) to help care for his suicidal poet sister, Nick Nolte as football coach and English teacher Tom Wingo almost recognizes Jeoren Krabbe whom, we will learn, plays a world famous violinist, before their first session, in The Prince Of Tides, 1991.
Conrack (1974) - Treat Your Babies Stern Following credits in which he crossed from the South Carolina mainland (actually Brunswick to Sea Island, Ga), Jon Voight as the title character, from the memoir by Pat Conroy, meets Mary (Tina Andrews) then his new boss, principal Mrs. Scott (Madge Sinclair), Martin Ritt directing, in Conrack, 1974.
Conrack (1974) - A Red Neck And A Small Brain On his second day teaching on Dafuskie Island, South Carolina (shot on location at Sea Island, Ga), 1969, Jon Voight as author Pat Conroy goes for an unorthodox physical approach, tangling with Top Cat (Ellis Lamar Cash) and riling his principal (Madge Sinclair), in Conrack, 1974.
Conrack (1974) - We're Mostly Black Taking his class afield in coastal South Carolina, 1969, Jon Voight as the author Pat Conroy in the film based on his memoir, mixing English poets and botany, surprised to meet Paul Winfield, as moonshiner Mad Billy, in director Martin Ritt’s Conrack, 1974.
Conrack (1974) - Milkin' The Rat More unorthodox teaching, by Jon Voight as the title character, from the memoir by Pat Conroy, getting the usual mixed results from his South Carolina island pupils, observed by Hume Cronyn as his superintendent, visiting from the mainland, in Martin Ritt’s Conrack, 1974.
Great Santini, The (1979) - Welcome Home, Colonel Introducing the family of the title character (Robert Duvall as the Marine pilot “Bull” Meechum), Blythe Danner as mom Lillian, Michael O’Keefe as Ben (representing Pat Conroy from his autobiographical novel), with Lisa Jane Persky, Brian Andrews and Jullie Anne Haddock, early in The Great Santini, 1979.
Great Santini, The (1979) - Would You Like To Be Killed In Action? En route to his new post at Beaufort, South Carolina, 1962, Robert Duvall as Marine Col. “Bull” Meechum (title character), Michael O’Keefe his son Ben, the substantially autobiographical character from the Pat Conroy novel, Blythe Danner as wife Lillian, in The Great Santini, 1979.
Great Santini, The (1979) - Squirt A Few Probably the best-known scene, Robert Duvall as the title character, Marine pilot “Bull” Meechum, Michael O’Keefe as his son, based on the author Pat Conroy from his novel, Blythe Danner as mother Lillian, the family watching a one-on-one challenge, South Carolina ca. 1962, in The Great Santini, 1979.
Great Santini, The (1979) - You're Probably Wondering Why I Attacked You Reporting to his new post in South Carolina, 1962, belligerent Marine pilot Col. Meechum (Robert Duvall) attacks unsuspecting Atchley (Bennett Liss), thinking he was surprising his old buddy, fellow officer Hedgepath (Paul Mantee), in The Great Santini, 1979, from the Pat Conroy novel.
Great Santini, The (1979) - Over Spain, 1962 Opening with the biggest aerial scene in the picture, Robert Duvall as the self-nicknamed title character, Marine pilot Col. “Bull” Meechum, in exercises against Navy pilots in Spain, Lewis John Carlino directing, from his script from the Pat Conroy novel, in The Great Santini, 1979.

Trailer

Family

Donald Conroy
Father
Retired military officer. Marine; born c. 1921; divorced from Conroy's mother in 1975 after 33 years of marriage; died of colon cancer on May 9, 1998 at age 77.
Frances Conroy
Mother
Divorced from Conroy's father in 1975 after 33 years of marriage; died of leukemia in 1984 at age 59.
Carol Ann Conroy
Sister
Poet. Younger.
Michael Conroy
Brother
Mental health worker. Younger.
James Conroy
Brother
Sales trainer. Born c. 1955.
Kathleen Conroy Harvey
Sister
Nurse. Younger.
Timothy Conroy
Brother
Teacher. Works with mentally disabled children; younger.
Tom Conroy
Brother
A schizophrenic who committed suicide in 1994 at age 33.
Megan Conroy
Daughter
Born c. 1970; mother Barbara Bolling.
Susannah Conroy
Daughter
Born c. 1982; mother Lenore Gurewitz.

Companions

Barbara Bolling
Wife
Married in 1969; divorced in 1977.
Lenore Gurewitz
Wife
Second wife; married in 1981; divorced.
Sandra Ray
Wife
Author. Married on June 7, 1998; third marriage for both.

Bibliography

"My Losing Season"
Pat Conroy (2002)
"Pat Conroy: A Critical Companion"
Landon C. Burns, Greenwood Publishing Group (1996)
"Beach Music"
Pat Conroy, Nan A Talese/Doubleday (1995)
"The Prince of Tides"
Pat Conroy, Houghton Mifflin (1986)
"The Lords of Discipline
Pat Conroy, Houghton Mifflin (1980)
"The Great Santini"
Pat Conroy, Houghton Mifflin (1976)
"The Water Is Wide"
Pat Conroy, Houghton Mifflin (1972)
"The Boo"
Pat Conroy, McClure (1970)