WASHINGTON — Clifford Irving, an American novelist who went to prison after his claim to have collaborated on an autobiography of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes was exposed as a hoax, has died at the age of 87.
Julie Irving, the author’s sixth wife, told The New York Times that Irving died in a hospice in Sarasota, Florida, on Tuesday, just a week after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Irving was a little-known novelist when he made the sensational announcement in 1970 that he had held a series of interviews with the reclusive Hughes for an authorized autobiography.
Irving received a hefty advance from McGraw-Hill for the book and its publication was eagerly anticipated by a public hungry for details about the famously private Hollywood producer and celebrated aviator.
In fact, Irving had had no contact with Hughes and was perpetrating what the Times called “one of the biggest literary hoaxes of the 20th century.”
He was exposed when Hughes broke his silence and denied any collaboration with Irving.
Convicted of fraud, “my reward in 1972 for that Hughes lunacy was 16 months in three federal prisons,” Irving wrote on his official website.
In 1981, Irving told The New York Times that the book had been a prank stemming from boredom, describing himself as “the nice Jewish boy loaded with guilt, the self-proclaimed world traveler, great lover and romantic, flamboyant writer who knew right from wrong.”
“In that period of my life I was not honest, loyal and dependable – although once the contracts were signed, I was thoroughly dependable and produced a deep and fascinating study of a millionaire -and became Time magazine’s ‘Con Man of the Year,'” he said.
Richard Gere starred in a 2006 movie about the case called “The Hoax.”