'Bridges of Madison County' Author Robert James Waller Dies at 77

Waller died at his home in Fredericksburg, Texas, early Friday, his friend Scott Cawelti of Cedar Falls, Iowa tells the Associated Press

Robert James Waller
Photo: Rex Rystedt/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

The Bridges of Madison County author Robert James Waller has died at 77.

Waller died at his home in Fredericksburg, Texas, early Friday, his friend Scott Cawelti of Cedar Falls, Iowa, tells the Associated Press. He had been fighting multiple myeloma, a type of cancer.

Waller wrote the best-selling romance novel in 1992, and it was later turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, as well as a Broadway musical.

The novel, which Waller wrote in 11 days, tells the story of a National Geographic photographer named Robert Kincaid, who seduces a lonely Italian-American woman named Francesca Johnson while on a photo assignment in the small town. Francesca, meanwhile, is married to a straight-edged farmer.

The Bridges of Madison County topped the New York Times best-seller list for over three years after it was released. It sold 12 million copies in 40 languages, turning its author into a millionaire and the small town of Madison County into a hot spot for tourists from all over the world. The film version, which Eastwood directed in 1995, grossed $182 million worldwide.

Despite the novel’s success, critics teased it for being overly sappy and cliché. “Waller depicts their mating dance in plodding detail, but he fails to develop them as believable characters,” The New York Times wrote in 1993. “Instead, we get a lot of quasi-mystical business about the shaman-like photographer who overwhelms the shy, bookish Francesca with ‘his sheer emotional and physical power.’ ”

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Waller later said he was surprised by the critical backlash. “I really do have a small ego,” he told The New York Times in 2002. “I am open to rational discussion. If you don’t like the book and can say why, I am willing to listen. But the criticism turned to nastiness … I was stunned.”

The author moved to a remote ranch in Alpine, Texas, after Bridges became a hit. He and his wife, Georgia, divorced after 36 years of marriage. (The two have a daughter, Rachel.) He then became romantically involved with a woman who worked on the ranch as a landscaper, Linda Bow.

Waller was born and raised in Rockford, Iowa. He studied at the University of Northern Iowa before receiving his doctorate from Indiana University. He taught management, economics, and applied mathematics at the University of Northern Iowa from 1968 to 1991. He went on to write seven books, and found success again with Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend in 1993, which beat out Bridges on the best-seller list.

The musical version of The Bridges of Madison County hit Broadway in 2014 and starred Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale. It closed after just 137 performances. A national tour starring Elizabeth Stanley kicked off in 2015.

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