Edmund Morris, a presidential biographer who was best known for writing a book about former President Ronald Reagan, has passed away. Morris was 78 years old at the time. On Friday, Morris died at a hospital in Danbury Connecticut. According to The Associated Press, Sylvia Jukes Morris, Edmund’s wife, said that his death came one day after he suffered from a stroke.
Andy Ward, Morris’ editor, read a statement saying: “We at Random House mourn this loss with all who knew him and loved him, and with those who read his remarkable books. Our deepest sympathies are with his beloved wife Sylvia.”
Morris was known for his unique style of prose and became famous with the success of his first book, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, which won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize. But the book that truly cemented his legacy was “Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan.”
Vladimir Babenko / CC BY-SA 4.0
Those that were close to Reagan, who took office in 1981, believed that Morris was the perfect person to write a book about Reagan. Not only did Morris receive a seven-figure contract for the book, but he was also provided with the opportunity to access information that most historians would kill to see, such as meetings and private interviews with Reagan’s family.
“He had the guts to let somebody come in from outside, stare at him, read his mail, go off and talk to his children. Whatever you say about Ron Reagan, he has guts,” said Morris in 1991.
As Morris worked on the book, he realized that Reagan was a bit of a puzzle, a man who was essentially unknown, even to those that were closest to him. “I went through a period of a year or so of depression because I felt that with all my research, how come I can’t understand the first thing about him?” Morris said of Reagan.
Morris’ answer would end up infuriating his critics, Reagan associates, and historians. Morris included himself in the story as a fictional character, taking readers on a journey through Reagan’s childhood in Illinois to his rise to the presidency.
The book, which was published in 1999, was condemned as an abuse of historiography, even though some people acknowledged the fact that Reagan would often fabricate parts of his past, as well. Morris also irritated Reagan’s supporters by claiming that Reagan was so emotionally distant that even his wife, First Lady Nancy Reagan, had little to no access to what he was actually thinking.
Morris, who was born in Nairobi, Kenya, was the son of South African parents. According to his brief bio on the Penguin Random House website, Morris was educated in Kenya and attended college in South Africa. In 1964, Morris moved to Britain where he worked as a copywriter in London.
After his biography on Roosevelt became a huge success, Morris wrote two additional volumes on the former president. In 2001, Morris wrote “Theodore Rex,” and in 2010, he wrote “Colonel Roosevelt.” A critic for the New York Times wrote that Morris’ trilogy “deserves to stand as the definitive study of its restless, mutable, ever-boyish, erudite and tirelessly energetic subject.” On October 22, Random House will publish Morris’ latest book, “Edison.” Morris has always defended his book, saying throughout the years that readers have told him that “Dutch” was the closest telling to Reagan’s story than other books that have been published.