Brian Garfield, Author of 'Death Wish,' Dies at 79

Courtesy of The Coppage Co.
Brian Garfield

He also adapted another of his many novels for the screenplay for 'Hopscotch,' a Walter Matthau comedy.

Brian Garfield, who wrote the 1972 novel Death Wish that spawned the popular movie franchise featuring Charles Bronson as an architect turned vigilante, has died. He was 79.

Garfield died Saturday at his home in Pasadena after a battle with Parkinson's disease, Judy Coppage, his literary agent, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Garfield also wrote the screenplay, adapted from his 1975 novel, for Hopscotch, a 1980 comedy starring Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson and Sam Waterston. He said he wrote that book, in which no one dies, in response to the violence of Death Wish, and it won an Edgar Award.

Another of his novels, Gun Down, served as the basis for The Last Hard Men, a 1976 Western that was directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and starred Charlton Heston, James Coburn and Barbara Hershey.

Garfield was the author of more than 70 books that sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, and 19 of his works were made into films or TV shows.

In his Death Wish novel, a New York accountant named Paul Benjamin is sent reeling when muggers kill his wife and leave his daughter fighting for her life. That spurs him to take justice into his own hands. 

The rugged Bronson then played Paul Kersey, now an architect, in five Death Wish films that were released in 1974, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1994. 

"I hated the four sequels," Garfield said in a 2008 interview. "They were nothing more than vanity showcases for the very limited talents of Charles Bronson. The screenplay for the original Death Wish movie was quite good, I thought. It was written by Wendell Mayes — look him up; he was a great guy and a splendid screenwriter; but his Death Wish script was designed to be directed by Sidney Lumet, with Jack Lemmon to star as Paul.

"The last-minute changes in director [Michael Winner] and star were imposed by a new producer to whom the project was sold, rather under protest, by the original producers Hal Landers and Bobby Roberts. The point of the novel Death Wish is that vigilantism is an attractive fantasy, but it only makes things worse in reality. By the end of the novel, the character is gunning down unarmed teenagers because he doesn't like their looks. The story is about an ordinary guy who descends into madness."

Garfield wrote a sequel, Death Sentence, which was published in 1975, calling it a "penance" for the box office success of the first Death Wish movie. (That novel was adapted for a 2007 James Wan film that starred Kevin Bacon.)

Bruce Willis also starred in a Death Wish remake directed by Eli Roth that hit theaters in March.

Brian Francis Wynne Garfield was born in New York City on Jan. 26, 1939. He was the son of Frances O'Brien, a protege of Georgia O'Keeffe; the famed artist introduced his mother to her future husband, George Garfield. 

He grew up in Arizona "accustomed to having writers around the house," he said, and wrote his first book, a Western titled Range Justice, when he was 18.

In the 1950s, Garfield toured with The Palisades, a group that recorded the doo-wop song "I Can't Quit." He also attended the University of Arizona and served in the U.S. Army and the Army Reserves from 1957-65.

Garfield's 1969 nonfiction book The Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction. And according to his literary agency, John Grisham credited Garfield's article "Ten Rules for Suspense Fiction" with "giving him the tools" to create The Firm.

He also served as president of the Western Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America.

Survivors include his wife, Bina, and cousins Gwyne, Rebecca and Elizabeth. Funeral arrangements are pending, and a memorial service will be announced. Donations may be made to Wildlife Waystation, a favorite charity.