Best-selling author Wilbur Smith dies aged 88

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International best-selling author Wilbur Smith has died at his home in Cape Town at the age of 88, his publisher has announced.

He passed away on Saturday afternoon with his wife, Niso, by his side, a statement published on the Wilbur Smith Books website said.

Smith’s 49 published books have sold more than 140 million copies worldwide.

He gained widespread recognition following the publication of his debut novel When the Lion Feeds in 1964.

The book, which told the story of a young man growing up on a South African cattle ranch in the shadow of the Zulu wars and the gold rush, quickly became a bestseller.

It was a tale based partly on his own experience – Smith told the BBC in an interview in 2013 that at the age of 13 he shot dead a lion that had attacked cattle on his father’s property.

Born in January 1933 in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, Smith, was named after US aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright.

In 1964, the author published his first novel, “When the Lion Feeds,” which narrates the tale of a young man growing up on a South African cattle ranch. It turned out to be an instant bestseller and led to 15 sequels, tracing an ambitious family’s fortunes for more than 200 years.

Smith said the novel remained his favorite because it was his first to be published.

His bestselling “Courtney Series” was the longest-running in publishing history, spanning generations and three centuries, “through critical periods from the dawn of colonial Africa to the American Civil War, and to the apartheid era in South Africa,” said his publisher.

But it was with Taita, the hero of his “Egyptian Series,” that Wilbur “most strongly identified, and River God remains one of his best-loved novels to this day,” it added.

A file photo of South Africa’s author Wilbur Smith addressing the audience during a promotional event for his latest book, in Bangalore, India, 06 December 2011. A Smith was in Bangalore to promote his novel, ‘Those in Peril’. EPA/JAGADEESH NV

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