Legendary thriller writer Wilbur Smith dies at home aged 88

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Legendary thriller writer Wilbur Smith died this afternoon at his home in Cape Town after spending the morning reading and writing with his wife Niso.

The 88-year-old author sold more than 140 million books in 30 languages.

Many of his 49 novels featured the Courtney family, following their exploits across the globe over three centuries.

His first novel, When the Lion Feeds, published in 1964 was an instant best seller, and his personal life was as adventurous as his fictional characters.

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A statement on the South African author’s Twitter page read: ‘We are sorry to announce that the beloved, global bestselling author Wilbur Smith passed away unexpectedly this afternoon at his Cape Town home, with his wife Niso by his side.’

Kevin Conroy Scott, literary agent for Wilbur Smith for the past 11 years, said: ‘Wilbur Smith was an icon, larger than life, beloved by his fans who collected his books in hardbacks and passed his work down through generations, fathers to sons and mothers to daughters.

‘His knowledge of Africa, and his imagination knew no limitations. His work ethic and his powerful, elegant writing style made him known to millions.

‘I cherish the role of working side by side with his wife Niso and the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation to keep the flame of his fictional universe alive for many years to come.’

Earlier this year, Smith had released the latest book in the Courtney family’s adventures, Legacy of War, which is set after World War Two in the gripping sequel to Courtney’s War.

Smith was a noted bushman and survivalist. He was also a big game hunter, a pilot and an expert scuba diver.

Smith wrote historical books about Southern Africa across four centuries from the viewpoints of both white and black families.

He was born in Zambia on January 9, 1933, and grew up on his father’s cattle ranch for the first few years of his life. He became sick with malaria when he was just 18 months old but remarkably made a full recovery.

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His biography said: ‘As an infant of eighteen months I was struck down by cerebral malaria, delirious for ten days.

‘The doctors told my parents that it was probably better if I died, because if I survived I would be brain-damaged.

‘Despite the primitive medical facilities available in Africa in those days, their prognosis proved correct; I survived and am now only mildly crazy. Which is good because you have to be at least slightly crazy to write fiction for a living.’

Smith wanted to be a journalist but became an accountant by training before publishing When the Lion Feeds and securing a film contract for the novel.

He married his first wife Anne Rennie in July 1957, and they had a son Shaun and a daughter Christian together before they split up in 1962.

Smith had his third child Lawrence with his second wife Jewell Slabbart, who he married in 1964, following the publication of his first novel.

He married his third wife Danielle Thomas in 1971 and he dedicated all of his books to her until she died in 1999, following a six-year illness. He adopted Danielle’s son from a previous relationship Dieter after growing close to him.

He met his fourth wife Mokhiniso Rakhimova, known as Niso, in a bookstore in London in January 2000 and the two quickly fell in love before tying the knot just months later.

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