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US writer Peter Matthiessen dies aged 86

The author, who had been diagnosed with leukaemia, had been ill for a number of months.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

US WRITER PETER Matthiessen has has died, aged 86.

The writer spurned a life of leisure after being born into a wealthy family and embarked on extraordinary physical and spiritual quests while producing such acclaimed books as The Snow Leopard and At Play in the Fields of the Lord.

His publisher Geoff Kloske of Riverhead Books said Matthiessen, who had been diagnosed with leukaemia, was ill “for some months.” He died at a hospital near his home on Long Island yesterday.

“Peter was a force of nature, relentlessly curious, persistent, demanding — of himself and others,” his literary agent, Neil Olson, said in a statement. “But he was also funny, deeply wise and compassionate.”

Matthiessen helped found The Paris Review, one of the most influential literary magazines, and won National Book Awards for The Snow Leopard, his spiritual account of the Himalayas, and for the novel Shadow Country.

A leading environmentalist and wilderness writer, he embraced the best and worst that nature could bring him, whether trekking across the Himalayas, parrying sharks in Australia or enduring a hurricane in Antarctica.

He also was a longtime liberal who befriended Cesar Chavez and wrote a defense of Indian activist Leonard Peltier, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, that led to a highly publicised, and unsuccessful, lawsuit by an FBI agent who claimed Matthiessen had defamed him.

Matthiessen was married three times, most recently to Maria Eckhart, whom he wed in 1980. He had four children, two each from his first two marriages, and two stepchildren from his third marriage.

In Paradise, which he had expected to be his last novel, will be published next week. The book was inspired by a visit in he made to Auschwitz.

- With additional reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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