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Robert Ludlum | Biography

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Early Life

Robert Ludlum was born in New York City on May 25, 1927. As a teenager, he acted in plays on Broadway, going on to eventually study theater at Wesleyan University. Before college, however, he attempted to serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force at the onset of World War II (1939–45) but was rejected from joining the military. When Ludlum was of age he was finally able to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps as an infantryman throughout the South Pacific from 1944–46. In the 1950s Ludlum became a working actor, producer, and commercial voice-over artist. He married his first wife Mary Ryducha after college and had three children. During those years Ludlum lived with his family in Paramus, New Jersey.

From Theater Producer to Best-Selling Novelist

Ludlum found success in theater, founding Paramus's popular Playhouse on the Mall in 1960 and producing such Broadway hits as playwright Bill Manhoff's The Owl and the Pussycat (1964). He began writing fiction in his 40s.

His first novel, the spy thriller The Scarlatti Inheritance, was published in 1971. The plot features a "marked man" protagonist (hero singled out for harm from the start of the narrative) caught up in a Nazi conspiracy. This structure set the tone for Ludlum's subsequent 20 novels. Throughout the 70s and 80s Ludlum's novels became almost required reading on plane flights or beach vacations. His inventiveness helped make spy thrillers, in general, a popular genre. Publishing almost one book per year, and selling over 20 million copies per book, Ludlum became an industry—and a genre—unto himself. Some well-known titles include The Osterman Weekend (1972), The Rhinemann Exchange (1974), The Gemini Contenders (1976), The Scorpio Illusion (1993), and The Prometheus Deception (2000). The author's name is still used as an adjective to describe a novel depicting Ludlum's trademark style: Ludlumesque.

The Bourne Years

With the publication of The Bourne Identity in 1980 Ludlum created what would become a lucrative book and film brand. He wrote two subsequent Bourne novels, The Bourne Supremacy (1986) and The Bourne Ultimatum (1990), which were adapted into the blockbuster film series starring American actor Matt Damon. After Ludlum's death, Ludlum's estate hired another writer to pen 11 additional Bourne novels between 2004–17. Ludlum's skill at creating a sympathetic, yet masterful hero was his ultimate commercial success.

A Mysterious Finale

In 1996 Robert Ludlum's wife Mary died of cancer. Though heartbroken, the author married again. Karen Ludlum (née Dunn) was his wife from March 1997 until his own death on March 12, 2001. However, a Ludlumesque conspiracy surrounds his death, according to Ludlum's nephew Kenneth Kearns. Karen was said to be manipulative, isolating Ludlum from his family and friends. Several weeks before Ludlum's death, firefighters rushed to his Florida home where they found Ludlum on fire. Karen reportedly refused to come to her husband's aid even as he screamed in pain. A month later Ludlum suffered a heart attack at home. Karen ordered his body cremated before there was time to perform an autopsy. Ludlum's nephew and sometime biographer, Kenneth Kearns, and publisher Jeffrey Campbell went on to publish The Ludlum Identity, The Man Behind Jason Bourne (2011), a book accusing Karen Ludlum of profiting from her husband's death.

A Continuing Legacy

Robert Ludlum died, leaving behind an estate already worth approximately five million dollars. In 2002 Forbes magazine ranked him the 13th highest earning dead celebrity. Ludlum's book sales and film royalties both continue to expand. His books have been published in many languages in many countries. Most of Ludlum's books—and the sequels that are written by other authors continuing Ludlum's work—have been adapted for television or film.
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