Winston Groom, the author of “Forrest Gump,” as well as several acclaimed novels and histories, died Wednesday at the age of 77.
Groom died in Fairhope, according to Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson.
A native of Washington, D.C., Groom grew up in Mobile County and attended UMS-Wright and the University of Alabama before serving in Vietnam. His life at some points paralleled that of his most famous character.
After Vietnam, he seriously began to pursue a career in writing. In a 2000 piece for the Washington Post, Groom recalled his early days a reporter.
“I got a job in Washington at the old Washington Star and, as the lowest-ranking reporter on the staff, had the duty on many occasions of going out to the demonstrations to do a ‘head count.’ How you count the heads of 250,000 people in motion, I still do not know, but somehow we came up with the numbers,” he wrote.
At the Star, “everybody had a brown bag with whiskey in it and an unfinished manuscript,” he recalled, but while there, he grew close to Willie Morris, and met “Catch-22” author Joseph Heller, “Slaughterhouse Five” author Kurt Vonnegut and James Jones, author of “From Here to Eternity.”
In a 2016 interview for his novel, “El Paso,” Groom described himself as just an “old-timey” guy who wanted to give readers a novel rooted in action, rather than introspection.
“I always say, if you want to send a message, call Western Union,” he said. His 1982 book, “Conversations with the Enemy,” was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Groom wrote eight novels, but none more famous than one centered around an unlikely hero from Alabama. Groom created the character of Forrest Gump, he said in 1994, after he and his father had enjoyed a weekend visit together. His father, in his eighties, told him of a neighborhood boy who was called “slow” but could play a piano brilliantly.
That same night, he began writing the book, which he said “just wrote itself.” He finished the first draft six weeks later. He wanted to the character to have dignity, which he said later was the reason the story appealed to people.
“There were times I would just laugh out loud while writing the book. It was great fun to write, and I grew to really love the character,” he said.
“Forrest Gump,” published in 1986, went on to become a huge box-office hit in 1994 and a pop culture sensation, with Groom’s character interacting with presidents and obliviously wandering into various touchstone moments for Baby Boomers. With Tom Hanks in the title role, the film won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Groom gave the world a sequel, “Gump & Co.,” as well as a history of University of Alabama football, “The Crimson Tide.” He also wrote several military histories and books about the West and the Civil War.