Jim Harrison enjoyed work, friends, drinks to the very end

AP News
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Posted: Mar 28, 2016 1:39 PM
Jim Harrison enjoyed work, friends, drinks to the very end

NEW YORK (AP) — The last days of author Jim Harrison were not unlike so many days before: work, friends, cigarettes, vodka.

Best known for "Legends of the Fall," Harrison died Saturday afternoon at age 78, found at his home in Patagonia, Arizona. According to his neighbor of 18 years, author and editor Laura Chester, he had been at work in his study, where he "lit an American Spirit and was writing a poem by hand when the sudden and fatal heart attack hit him."

"A caregiver discovered him when she brought in his dinner," Chester wrote in an email Monday to The Associated Press.

Harrison wrote more than 30 books, including poems, novellas and nonfiction, and was beloved among writers and readers worldwide. Sherman Alexie, Mary Karr and Anthony Bourdain were among the friends and peers who tweeted tributes over the weekend, and his most recent book, the novella collection "The Ancient Minstrel," jumped from No. 2,364 on Amazon.com's best-seller list to No. 181 between Sunday and Monday.

According to Chester, she and Harrison and 10 other close friends had met Friday night at the Wagon Wheel, their "local cowboy saloon," where Harrison often enjoyed an iced vodka. It was a "spontaneous celebratory gathering" for Good Friday, with authors Philip Caputo and Jim Fergus among those on hand.

"We all sat in a circle with him outside in the yard where we could smoke," she wrote to the AP.

"Jim spoke to me about an upcoming trip to Paris and Seville he was planning for April," Fergus told the AP, adding that Harrison was still grieving for his longtime wife, Linda, who died last fall.

"Going to Europe, which he hadn't been able to do for a few years due to health issues, was one way for Jim to distract himself from that loneliness. And I suppose death was another way."

After Chester learned from Caputo's wife, Leslie Ware, that the author had died, she drove to his house. She said a "simple prayer" and collected his dog, Folly, so she could care for her until the arrival of Harrison's daughter, author Jamie Potenberg.

Caputo told the AP in an email that some of Harrison's friends had planned before his death to meet Sunday. They gathered at Chester's house for an Easter meal and a memorial.

"We told Jim Harrison stories, of which we all have large reservoirs to draw from," Fergus said. "We drank wine, and we laughed and laughed. Jim was so brilliant, funny, outrageous, and so specifically himself."

"After dinner, we all took turns reading poems from his various books before hugging each other goodnight," Chester explained. "Phil (Caputo) said to me, 'You know, Jim was like the focal point of our group here in Patagonia — he held us all together, and we have to promise to remain true to that spirit.' We all piled our hands one on top of the other to make that vow in Harrison's name.

"A great soul has passed. We will miss him."