Bryce Courtenay dies at 79: six things you might want to know

Nov 23, 2012

‘Thank you. You have been simply wonderful,' Aussie author told his readers just weeks ago

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BRYCE Courtenay, the best-selling Australian author of 21 books including the acclaimed apartheid novel The Power of One, has died at the age of 79.

Tributes to the advertising man-turned-novelist often dubbed 'Australia's greatest storyteller' were lead by the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who said his writing, "has delighted Australians and people around the world…"

Three months ago, Courtenay, who sold more than 20 million books worldwide, told his fans he was suffering from stomach cancer. In a final interview with his publisher Penguin, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, he said he was happy to die with his intellect intact, saying, "The time is right, it's beautiful, it's gorgeous."

Courtenay died at his home in Canberra yesterday surrounded by family members including his wife, Christine, and son, Adam.

Here are six things about Courtenay you may not know…

He was not born in Australia. The archetypal Australian storyteller was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and spent his early years in a small village in the Lebombo Mountains. He decided to study journalism in London, paying for the trip by working in copper mines in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). He emigrated to Sydney in the mid-1950s.

He created some of Australia's most famous ad campaigns. During a 34-year career in advertising, Courtenay created ads that are familiar to every Australian. Perhaps the most famous is the Louie the Fly character he created for Mortein fly spray. He also dreamed up the It's Time slogan for Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's successful 1972 election campaign.

He couldn't crack the American market. Despite his immense success in Australia and the UK, The Power of One was his only book to be published in the US. "American publishers for the most part have difficulties about Australia, they are interested in books in their own country first and foremost," he once said.

He was brilliant at developing a relationship with his readers. At the time of his death, he had more than 70,000 fans on Facebook. He also gave away as many as 2,500 of his books a year to people he met in the street.

'The Power of One' may have saved his life. According to friends, Courtenay was a stressed-out advertising executive who drank several bottles of wine a day and smoked hundreds of cigarettes, when he decided to write his most famous book, published in 1989. He realised his lifestyle was killing him and changed it to write.

His final book was published just weeks before his death. His 21st book, Jack of Diamonds, was published on 12 November. On a promotional flyer accompanying the book he thanked his readers saying, "Now, as my story draws to an end, may I say only, `Thank you. You have been simply wonderful'.''

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No.7 - If you stay more than 6 months in Oz you must change your name to Bruce and learn to talk in a sound like a cork squeaking on glass.