Brian Garfield, an award-winning novelist whose “ Death Wish ” launched a film franchise starring Charles Bronson as a middle-aged, formerly mild-mannered professional who transforms into a right-wing vigilante, died Dec. 29 at his home in Pasadena, Calif. He was 79.
His literary agent, Judy Coppage, confirmed the death but did not provide further information.
Mr. Garfield wrote dozens of books in genres ranging from thrillers to war stories, and his worldwide sales topped 20 million copies. Many of his works were adapted into feature films and television movies. One, “Hopscotch” (1980), which starred Walter Matthau as an ex-CIA officer who in a pique of boredom seeks revenge on his bumbling superiors, played with a theme coursing through many of Mr. Garfield’s works: a little guy taking on an indifferent establishment.
He was best known for “Death Wish,” the story of a liberal New Yorker who turns with increasing pleasure to extrajudicial justice after his family is viciously assaulted. Mr. Garfield said he wrote the story after his car window was smashed on a Manhattan street and his wife’s purse was snatched, two isolated incidents that made him think about what he called the impulse of revenge, “that automatic fantasy response — that I would have killed him if I’d seen him.”
The book, published in 1972, was written as a scathing commentary on the vigilante mentality with a character who suffers a mental break as he wreaks vengeance.
“He’s obviously a nut,” Mr. Garfield told the Associated Press a few years after its publication. He objected that the film with Bronson turned the main character into a “cowboy hero,” which in Hollywood proved commercially appealing in an era of rising urban violence and the perception of an emphasis on criminal rights.
The film also cashed in on the vigilante craze popularized by “Dirty Harry” (1971), which starred Clint Eastwood as a cop who makes his own rules and itself spawned a hit franchise.
Mr. Garfield’s 1975 novel, “Death Sentence,” a sequel to “Death Wish,” was adapted into a poorly reviewed 2007 film starring Kevin Bacon. Bruce Willis starred in a critically mauled “Death Wish” remake last year.
“One does get stuck with a reputation,” Mr. Garfield told the online publication NovelRocket in 2007. “Sometimes one may deserve it. All one can do is keep working and ignore the idiots.”
Brian Francis Wynne Garfield was born in New York City on Jan. 26, 1939, and grew up in Arizona. His mother, Frances O’Brien, was a portrait artist and friend of Georgia O’Keeffe’s.
As a young man, Mr. Garfield toured with a rock group, the Palisades, which had a minor hit with “I Can’t Quit.” He completed his first novel, the western “Range Justice,” when he was 18 and published several other pulp westerns.
He graduated in 1959 from the University of Arizona, where he also received a master’s degree in English in 1963. He was a veteran of the Army and Army Reserve.
His honors included the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1976 for “Hopscotch” for the year’s best crime novel. Over the years, he wrote books under a variety of pen names. He was a past president of the Mystery Writers of America and the Western Writers of America.
His marriage to actress Shan Willson ended in divorce. In 1985, he married Bina Crossblat. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
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