Bestselling author Elmore Leonard, whose 46 novels led to movie and TV adaptations like "Out of Sight," "Get Shorty," and FX's Emmy-winning "Justified," died Tuesday morning at his home outside Detroit.
Leonard, 87, had been working on a new novel about competitive bull riding, a follow-up to 2012's "Raylan," about the complicated "Justified" lawman played by Timothy Olyphant. Raylan Givens, the U.S. marshal whose local family history complicates his personal life and work as he does battle with the criminals of Harlan County, Kentucky, was born in Leonard's 1993 novel, "Pronto."
Raylan appeared again in 1995's "Riding the Rap," then in a 2001 novella called "Fire in the Hole," which inspired TV series creator Graham Yost to bring the character to the small screen. "Fire" also introduced Boyd Crowder, Raylan's Kentucky frenemy who has become one of primetime's best characters with the performance of Walton Goggins.
Leonard called "Justified" his favorite on-screen adaptation of his writing, in part because he felt the show's writers and star Olyphant perfectly brought to life the Raylan Givens he'd created on paper.
"[Timothy] does the character exactly the way I saw it. I had envisioned Raylan as just a new marshal. He had to learn, he made mistakes; that was the first book. But then he grows up in a hurry, and finally I began to write him as a heroic character," Leonard told the New York Post last year. "When I wrote 'Fire in the Hole,' [that version of the character] was the one I wanted. That’s the guy that Timothy picked up and modeled himself after."
Though Leonard wasn't in the "Justified" writers' room, he is credited as a writer and executive producer, and contributed story ideas for the show. Much of the plot of 2012's "Raylan," in fact, made its way into Season 3 of the TV series, and he told the Post he continued to write about Raylan. "I am right now," he said. "Because I know him, and I can make him talk in a minute."
Leonard's influence on the show extends beyond his specific story contributions, too, as the dialogue spoken by Raylan, Boyd, Ava, and scene-stealing "Justified" guest stars like Emmy winner Margo Martindale, Jere Burns, Neal McDonough, and Mykelti Williamson flows as if it came straight off one of Leonard's legal pads (he famously wrote all his works by hand, and didn't even own a computer).
"People ask me about my dialogue," the author, who was born in New Orleans but grew up in Detroit, told NPR. "I say, 'Don't you hear people talking?' That's all I do."
Watch a key scene from the "Justified" Season 4 finale right here:
Though "Justified" is far and away the most successful TV adaptation of the author's work, it's not the first. ABC's 1998 drama "Maximum Bob" was based on Leonard's novel of the same name, and starred Beau Bridges as Bob, a tough judge who liked to give out the "maximum" sentences.
FX CEO John Landgraf was an executive producer on ABC's short-lived 2003-04 drama "Karen Sisco," starring Carla Gugino as the titular character, a U.S. marshal who'd been played by Jennifer Lopez in the 1998 big-screen crime flick "Out of Sight" (based on the 1996 Leonard novel of the same name).
Landgraf told TV Guide earlier this year that "Sisco" — which was cancelled after seven episodes — was a good example of just how tough it is to capture the tone and spirit of Leonard's writing on screen, something "Justified" continues to do going into the series' fifth season in 2014.
"The ['Karen Sisco'] pilot was terrific, but then we had to sit down and figure out how to come up with material that good every week — by the way, times 22, because it was a broadcast show," Landgraf said. "And we couldn't do it. So I say sometimes my penance for that relatively near-miss was going back, 'cause I really, really love Elmore's work. Part of what makes me so gratified is, that guy has literally done everything and anything a writer can do, and the one thing he didn't have was a hit television show based on one of his characters or books. So now he has that and has been able to really enjoy it. That's been really, really cool."
Yost, Olyphant, Landgraf, and the rest of the "Justified" cast and crew expressed their sadness at Leonard's passing with a shout-out to his writing.
Landgraf called the writer "a genius and a gentleman" who "will remain in our hearts," while Yost, Olyphant, and company issued a statement saying, "We were blessed by the time we got to spend with him, and we will miss him. Our thoughts are with his family. Take it easy, Elmore. P.S.: We wrote longer versions of this statement, but as Elmore always said: Leave out the parts people tend to skip."
That last part refers to one of Leonard's famous 10 rules of writing, specifically Number 10: "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."