The Associated Press obituary yesterday of Richard Ellmann, 69, biographer of James Joyce, reported incorrectly that he had been a Harvard University undergraduate. He taught there but received bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Yale University. (Published 5/16/87)

OXFORD, ENGLAND -- Richard Ellmann, 69, a widely acclaimed biographer of James Joyce, died May 13 at Radcliffe Infirmary here. The cause of death was not reported, but friends said he had suffered for almost a year from a disorder of the central nervous system.

Mr. Ellmann's best-known work, "James Joyce: A Biography," won a U.S. National Book Award in 1960, and it was expanded and republished in 1982.

"He wrote undoubtedly the greatest biography of the 20th century," said David Norris, a noted Joycean scholar at Trinity College in Dublin, where Mr. Ellmann studied after World War II. "It ranks alongside Boswell's 'The Life of Samuel Johnson.' "

"He re-created Joyce," Norris said in an interview. "He made him come alive. He was a master stylist. He brought a lot of people to an appreciation of Joyce."

Mr. Ellmann was an English literature professor at Oxford University from 1970 to 1984 and worked most recently at Emory University in Atlanta. In addition to Joyce, he was an authority on several of Ireland's literary giants, including William Butler Yeats and Oscar Wilde.

Mr. Ellmann was born in Highland Park, Mich., the son of a lawyer. While an undergraduate at Harvard University, he was influenced by Yeats' poem "The Cold Heaven," and chose the poet as his thesis subject.

During World War II, he joined the Navy and served in London with the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime predecessor of the CIA.

In 1945, he went to Dublin.

He arrived six years after Yeats' death and befriended the poet's widow, who gave him access to her husband's books and unpublished manuscripts. His books on Yeats, beginning with the acclaimed "Yeats: the Man and the Mask" (1948), led him to Joyce.

In the 1950s, only one volume of Joyce letters had been published and Joyce, who died in 1941, had given few interviews. Mr. Ellmann concentrated on what Joyce said to others, tracking down the author's family and relatives, including Joyce's brother Stanislaus, and his literary friends. He later found a Joyce diary, a journal and letters.

Mr. Ellmann once told a reporter that Joyce's "Ulysses," a 1904 recreation of Homer's Greek epic, "stood literature on end. The whole modern novel seems to begin with that book."

Mr. Ellmann wrote more than two dozen books. His last published work was "Four Dubliners" (1986), a compilation of essays on Wilde, Joyce, Yeats and playwright Samuel Beckett. Last year he completed a biography of Wilde, which is expected to be published later this year.

Mr. Ellmann is survived by his wife, Mary Donahue; one son and two daughters.