NEW YORK (JTA) — J.D. Salinger, author of "Catcher in the Rye," recluse and grandson of a rabbi, has died at 91.
Salinger, whose signature novel became an American classic and remains required reading at high schools and colleges across the United States, reportedly died of natural causes Wednesday at his home in New Hampshire after more than five decades of reclusiveness.
Despite his disappearance from the public stage — some would say because of it — Salinger has remained an object of fascination and enigma in the world of American letters.
The author was born in New York in 1919 to an assimilated Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother of Irish descent. Salinger’s father, Sol, was the son of a rabbi. He worked as an importer of ham and tried to get his son into the business, according to The New York Times, but the younger Salinger instead became a writer.
He sold short stories to several magazines, and reportedly continued writing even while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Serving with the Counter Intelligence Corps of the 4th Infantry Division, Salinger was charged with interviewing Nazi deserters, according to the Times. He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
In 1951, Salinger published "Catcher in the Rye," whose irreverent, straight-talking protaganist, Holden Caulfield, became a model type for American writers. To date, the book has sold an estimated 65 million copies.
It became embroiled in controversy over what critics deemed its vulgar language, along with sexual references, blasphemy and low morals, and often was censored.
The growing literary acclaim that surrounded Salinger after the book’s publication unnerved him, and in 1953 he left the New York literary world for a cabin in New Hampshire. Though he continued publishing for a time, Salinger became a recluse and eventually disappeared from the literary world.
His death was announced by his literary agency. Salinger apparently had broken his hip last May but was in good health until several weeks ago, when his health suddenly deteriorated.