Thorn Birds Author Dead at 77 Colleen McCullough has died after a long illness By Newser Editors and Wire Services Posted Jan 29, 2015 9:52 AM CST 3 comments Comments In this March 1, 1977 file photo, Australian author Colleen McCullough laughs during a news conference in New York. (Anonymous) (Newser) – Best-selling Australian author Colleen McCullough, whose novel The Thorn Birds sold 30 million copies worldwide, has died at age 77 after a long illness. McCullough died today in a hospital on remote Norfolk Island, HarperCollins Australia publishing director Shona Martyn said in a statement. McCullough wrote 25 novels throughout her career; her final book, Bittersweet, was released in 2013. She had continued producing books despite a string of health and eyesight problems by using dictation, Martyn said: "Ever quick-witted and direct, we looked forward to her visits from Norfolk Island and the arrival of each new manuscript delivered in hard copy in custom-made maroon manuscript boxes inscribed with her name." McCullough's first novel, Tim, was published in 1974. It became a movie starring Mel Gibson, who played a young, intellectually disabled handyman who had a romance with a middle-aged woman. The Thorn Birds, her second novel published in 1977, became a US television mini-series in 1983 starring Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward, and Christopher Plummer. The Outback melodrama about a priest's struggle between church and love won four Golden Globe awards. McCullough, who was born in New South Wales, also studied neuroscience in Sydney and spent 10 years as a researcher at Yale Medical School in the United States. She established the neurophysiology department at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital. She lived as an author in the United States and London before settling on Norfolk Island. She is survived by her husband.