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Author Vince Flynn Dies at 47

Vince Flynn Headshot - P 2013
Peter Hurley

The Minnesota native wrote 12 novels starring CIA operative Mitch Rapp.

Vince Flynn, the best-selling novelist known for his 12-book series of thrillers that starred all-too-real counterterrorism operative Mitch Rapp and made him a darling of conservatives, has died. He was 47.

Flynn died Wednesday at United Hospital in his birthplace of St. Paul, Minn., after a long battle with prostate cancer, ICM reported. He announced that he had cancer in 2011.

His longtime agent Sloan Harris, the co-head of publications at ICM, said, "Vince Flynn was an incredibly talented storyteller and a true pioneer in publishing. Despite his extraordinary talent and success, Vince never lost his common touch. He was a warm, generous and charismatic friend to everyone who had the good fortune to work with him."

Motion picture rights to the Mitch Rapp character have been optioned by CBS Films with the intention of making an action-thriller movie franchise. In a 2012 interview, Flynn told THR that Bruce Willis had signed on to an adaptation of American Assassin to play Rapp's mentor, and the hope had been to get Chris Hemsworth to play Rapp.

Flynn’s first novel was Term Limits, self-published in 1997 after he received more than 60 rejection letters over five years. (Self-publishing was not as common as it is today.) The novel, centering on an assassin who knocks off powerful D.C. politicians, went to No. 1 in the Twin Cities area, and within a week, the author had an agent and a two-book deal with Emily Bestler of Pocket Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint. It quickly became a New York Times best-seller in paperback.

Flynn’s books have become perennial top sellers in hardcover, paperback and electronic editions, and since the publication of Protect and Defend in 2007, they have regularly landed at No. 1 on the Times list. He introduced Rapp in Transfer of Power, published in 1999.

He rooted Rapp in real events. Rapp's motivation for fighting terrorism sprang from the death of his high school sweetheart in the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am Flight 103. One year later, the character was recruited into the CIA. He is an unconventional operative who is willing to push the envelope to accomplish his goals. 

Flynn’s novels have been praised for their extensive research and prescient warnings about the rise of Islamic radical fundamentalism and terrorism. His books have been read by current and former presidents, foreign heads of state and intelligence professionals around the world and are admired for their verisimilitude and imagination.

One high-ranking CIA official told his staff, "I want you to read Flynn’s books and start thinking about how we can more effectively wage this war on terror." President George W. Bush once called Flynn "a little too accurate," and radio commentator Rush Limbaugh called the author "one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met."

Flynn's other works include The Third Option (2000), Separation of Power (2001), Executive Power (2003), Memorial Day (2004), Consent to Kill (2005), Act of Treason (2006), Extreme Measures (2008), Pursuit of Honor (2009), American Assassin (2010), Kill Shot (2012) and The Last Man, published in November.

“It has been our distinct honor to publish Vince Flynn for the entire length of his career,” said Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy. “As good as Vince was on the page -- and he gave millions of readers countless hours of pleasure -- he was even more engaging in person.

“He had a truly unique ability to make everyone -- from those of us at Simon & Schuster who were fortunate to be part of his publication, to booksellers and retailers around the nation, and most of all, his readers, with whom he had a very close relationship -- feel as if we were on his team and sharing in his life and his success. Yes, we will miss the Mitch Rapp stories that are classic modern thrillers, but we will miss Vince even more.”

The fifth of seven children, Flynn was born in St. Paul on April 6, 1966. He graduated from the St. Thomas Academy in 1984 and the University of St. Thomas with a degree in economics in 1988.

After college, he went to work for Kraft General Foods, where he was an account and sales marketing specialist.

In 1990, Flynn left Kraft to accept an aviation candidate slot with the U.S. Marine Corps. However, one week before leaving for Officers Candidate School, he was medically disqualified from the Marine Aviation Program because of several concussions and convulsive seizures he first suffered as a child following a car accident. While trying to obtain a medical waiver for his condition, he started thinking about writing a book -- quite unusual in that he had been diagnosed with dyslexia in grade school and had struggled with reading and writing all his life.

Flynn took a job with United Properties, a commercial real estate company in the Twin Cities, and during his spare time worked on Term Limits. After two years with United Properties, he quit his job, moved to Colorado and began working full time on what would eventually become his first novel, supporting himself by bartending at night.

Survivors include his wife, Lysa, two daughters and a stepson.