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'American Splendor' writer Harvey Pekar dies

No specific cause of death reported for 70-year-old author

Harvey Pekar, who chronicled his travails as a low-level filing clerk in the autobiographical comics series "American Splendor," which was adapted into the award-winning 2003 film, has died. He was 70.

The idiosyncratic writer, who had a range of ailments including prostate cancer, high blood pressure, asthma and clinical depression, was found dead shortly before 1 a.m. Monday by his wife, Joyce Brabner, in their home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, a spokesman for Cuyahoga County Coroner Frank Miller told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.

An employee of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Cleveland until he retired in 2001, Pekar became friends with underground comics creator Robert Crumb through their mutual love of jazz and began contributing stories to Crumb's "The People's Comics" during the 1970s. Beginning in 1976, Pekar began publishing tales, drawn from his life, under the title "American Splendor," with Crumb serving as the series' first illustrator.

During the '80s, the success of his comics as well as his mordant sense of humor and hangdog appeal brought him to the attention of David Letterman, which led to a series of appearances on Letterman's late-night NBC show, where he freely criticized NBC's parent company General Electric.

After he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1990, Pekar and Brabner, his third wife, wrote the book-length comic "Our Cancer Year," detailing the grueling treatment.

Their life was brought to the screen in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's film "American Splendor," in which Paul Giamatti played Pekar and Pekar made an appearance playing "Real Harvey."

After debuting at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, the film screened in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at the Festival de Cannes.

At the Sundance awards ceremony, Pekar said: "I'm always shook up and nervous, and I've got the hospital record to prove it. I wake up every morning in a cold sweat, regardless of how well things went the day before. And, put that I said that in a somewhat but not completely tongue-in-cheek way."

"Splendor" producer Ted Hope posted on his website Monday that Pekar "brought us one of my best film experiences ever" and called him "as true an original as there can be and a man of principles, humor, insight and artistry."

Making their first trip outside of the U.S., Pekar and his wife accompanied the film to Cannes, where they celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary and regarded all the attention they received with some wariness.

If there was one song that described his life, Pekar said at the time, it was Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar."

Pekar is survived by his wife and Danielle Bartone, whom the couple took in when she was 9 and became her guardians.