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Best-Selling Author Dies At Age 81

Wed., Oct. 15, 1997, midnight

Author Harold Robbins, an orphan who became a millionaire at 20, then lost it all before writing a string of steamy best-selling novels, died Tuesday. He was 81.

Robbins died shortly before noon at Desert Hospital, a spokesman said.

His novels were sold around the world, and many were turned into movies. His most popular works included “The Carpetbaggers,” “The Betsy” and “Never Love a Stranger.”

Robbins, married six times, experienced much of the debauchery he depicted in his books - and was proud of it. His Los Angeles parties were legendary, and he once said he took “all kinds of drugs.”

Robbins kept writing novels despite a stroke in 1982 that left him with a slight case of aphasia, which sometimes blocked his ability to put thoughts into words. He wrote more than 20 books; his last, “Tycoon: A Novel,” was published in February.

In an interview last year with the New Yorker magazine, Robbins said he had no choice but to keep writing.

“I haven’t any money. First of all, my medical bills were unbelievable. Then I got divorced” in 1992, said Robbins, who also suffered from hip ailments that kept him in a wheelchair.

Born in New York City on May 21, 1916, Robbins dropped out of high school at age 15, left his foster parents and eventually became an inventory clerk in a grocery store.

During the Depression, he showed entrepreneurial flair by buying up crops and selling options to canning companies and selling the canning contracts to wholesale grocers.

He was a millionaire by the time he was 20, but speculation in sugar before the outbreak of World War II stripped him of his fortune.

In 1940, he landed a job as a $27-a-week shipping clerk at the New York warehouse of Universal Pictures, where he eventually became executive director of budget and planning.

He became interested in writing through his involvement in the acquisition of literary properties for Universal.

Robbins’ most critically acclaimed novels drew on his own experiences as a youth in New York. “Never Love a Stranger,” his first novel published in 1948, told the story of a hustling New York orphan who became a cynical garment district racketeer and finally died in World War II.

Robbins’ most popular work, “The Carpetbaggers,” was published in 1961 and sold 6 million copies. The second part of a panoramic Hollywood trilogy that began with “The Dream Merchants,” “The Carpetbaggers” focused on a ruthlessly ambitious empire builder whose domain straddled the worlds of film, finance, aviation and Las Vegas gambling.

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