- The Washington Times - Friday, January 29, 2010

NEW YORK | J.D. Salinger, the legendary author, youth hero and fugitive from fame whose “The Catcher in the Rye” shocked and inspired a world he increasingly shunned, has died. He was 91.

Mr. Salinger died of natural causes at his home on Wednesday, the author’s son, actor Matt Salinger, said in a statement from Mr. Salinger’s longtime literary representative, Harold Ober Associates, Inc. He had lived for decades in self-imposed isolation in a small, remote house in Cornish, N.H.

“The Catcher in the Rye,” with its immortal teenage protagonist, the twisted, rebellious Holden Caulfield, came out in 1951, a time of anxious, Cold War conformity and the dawn of modern adolescence. The Book-of-the-Month Club, which made “Catcher” a featured selection, advised that for “anyone who has ever brought up a son” the novel will be “a source of wonder and delight - and concern.”

Enraged by all the “phonies” who make “me so depressed I go crazy,” Holden soon became American literature’s most famous anti-hero since Huckleberry Finn. The novel’s sales are astonishing - more than 60 million copies worldwide - and its impact incalculable. Decades after publication, the book remains a defining expression of that most American of dreams: to never grow up.

Mr. Salinger was writing for adults, but teenagers from all over identified with the novel’s themes of alienation, innocence and fantasy, not to mention the luck of having the last word. “Catcher” presents the world as an ever-so-unfair struggle between the goodness of young people and the corruption of elders, a message that only intensified with the oncoming generation gap.

The cult of “Catcher” turned tragic in December 1980 when crazed Beatles fan Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon, citing Mr. Salinger’s novel as an inspiration and stating that “this extraordinary book holds many answers.” A few months later, a copy of “Catcher” was found in the hotel room of John David Hinckley after he attempted to assassinate President Reagan.

By the 21st century, Holden himself seemed relatively mild, but Mr. Salinger’s book remained a standard in school curriculums and was discussed on countless Web sites and a fan page on Facebook.

Although Mr. Salinger initially contemplated a theater production of “Catcher,” with the author himself playing Holden, he turned down numerous offers for film or stage rights, including requests from Billy Wilder and Elia Kazan. Bids from Steven Spielberg and Harvey Weinstein were also rejected. In recent years, he was a notable holdout against allowing his books to appear in digital form.

In 2000, daughter Margaret Salinger’s “Dreamcatcher” portrayed the writer as an unpleasant recluse who spoke in tongues. Actor Matt Salinger, the author’s other child, disputed his sister’s book when it came out and labeled it “gothic tales of our supposed childhood.”

“He was a caring, fun, and wonderful father to me, and a tremendous grandfather to my boys,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press.

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