Author Robert James Waller, whose best-selling 1992 novel The Bridges of Madison County was turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood and a Broadway musical, has died in Texas, according to his literary agency. He was 77. Lucy Childs of Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency said Waller died Thursday or early Friday, the AP reports. Childs did not know the cause but said the author had been ill. In Bridges, which Waller famously wrote in 11 days, a photographer spends four days romancing a war bride from Italy married to a no-nonsense Iowa farmer. Waller's novel reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list and stayed on it for more than three years; the Eastwood-directed 1995 movie grossed $182 million worldwide.
Many critics made fun of Bridges, calling it sappy and cliche-ridden. "Waller depicts their mating dance in plodding detail, but he fails to develop them as believable characters," Eils Lotozo wrote in the New York Times 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.'" Readers, however, bought more than 12 million copies in 35 languages. Bridges turned the unknown writer into a multimillionaire and made Madison County, Iowa, an international tourist attraction. "I really do have a small ego," Waller said 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." (Read more obituary stories.)