David Oliver Relin, co-author of ‘Three Cups of Tea,’ dies at 49

Steven Winslow/AP - Greg Mortenson, left, and David Oliver Relin, co-authors of the best-selling book "Three Cups of Tea." Relin committed suicide in Corbett, Ore., outside Portland, on Nov. 14, according to the deputy Multnomah County medical examiner. Relin was 49.

David Oliver Relin, the co-author of the book “Three Cups of Tea,” a 2006 bestseller that received wide acclaim before it drew allegations that parts of the story were fabricated, died Nov. 15 in Corbett, Ore. He was 49.

His family announced his death in a statement released by a representative at the Wylie Agency. The statement said that Mr. Relin “suffered from depression” and that he “took his own life.”

Deputy Multnomah County medical examiner Peter Bellant said Mr. Relin died of blunt-force head injury but declined to provide other details.

A veteran journalist, Mr. Relin had reported extensively from Asia before joining Greg Mortenson as co-author of “Three Cups of Tea.”

The book, which has sold about 4 million copies, describes how Mortenson lost his way after a failed mountaineering expedition and was nursed back to health in a Pakistani village. Based on the villagers’ kindness and the poverty he saw, he resolved to build a school for them and schools throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The account came under scrutiny last year when “60 Minutes” and author Jon Krakauer alleged that it contained numerous fabrications.

In April, a U.S. district judge rejected a lawsuit by four people who bought the book, dismissing claims that the two authors, the publisher and a charity conspired to make Mortenson into a false hero to sell books and raise money for the charity. Haddon called the claims overly broad, flimsy and speculative.

In an August 2011 court filing, Mr. Relin’s attorney, Sonia Montalbano, said the litigation “has had a negative impact on [Relin’s] livelihood as an author.”

She said Mr. Relin “does not personally maintain any insurance for this litigation, which means that he has to personally fund his defense.”

In another filing, Montalbano said Mr. Relin “takes no position on many of the accusations made by the Plaintiff” but that he “does stand by the manuscript he wrote.”

She pointed out that in an introduction Mr. Relin wrote for “Three Cups of Tea,” he “fully acknowledged potential inaccuracies.” In that introduction, Mr. Relin wrote that Mortenson’s “fluid sense of time made pinning down the exact sequence of many events in this book almost impossible.”

After allegations that parts of “Three Cups of Tea” were fabricated, Mortenson denied any wrongdoing, although he has acknowledged that some of the events were compressed over different periods of time.

“Three Cups of Tea” was conceived as a way to raise money for and tell the story of Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, which he co-founded in 1996 to build schools in Central Asia.

Montalbano described Mr. Relin in court documents as a journalist looking to write his first book when he was approached by a magazine editor Mortenson had contacted looking for a writer to tell his story.

Mr. Relin then interviewed Mortenson, attended several of his lectures and read previous articles before preparing a book proposal that was bought by Penguin Group. After selling Penguin on the idea, Mr. Relin then conducted more interviews with Mortenson and others before writing the manuscript, Montalbano said.

In a 2008 interview with the University of Oregon literary journal Etude, Mr. Relin said he had objected to Mortenson being identified as co-author.

“That’s been the only negative thing about this whole adventure for me,” Mr. Relin said. “It was published that way over my objections.”

David Oliver Relin was born Dec. 12, 1962, in Rochester, N.Y. He was a 1985 graduate of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He also was a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

According to an online death notice, survivors include his wife, Dawn; his mother and stepfather, Marjorie Relin and Cary Ratcliff; and two sisters.

His book “Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives” is forthcoming.

—From wire and staff reports

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