Overnight sensations are rare in literature, but Tom Clancy, who died this fall at 66, lived one of singular success. After the Baltimore insurance agent, the son of a postal worker and department-store clerk, got The Hunt for Red October published in 1984 by the Naval Institute Press, President Ronald Reagan's praise propelled its snowballing sales-and he capitalized on his remarkable marketability for three more decades, spinning off successful thrillers, five of which (and counting) have been made into movies and dozens of video games. It made him rich and famous, as did his co-ownership of the Baltimore Orioles, which yielded him an estimated financial gain of $230 million.
Baltimore stayed an integral part of Clancy's life and fiction. He purchased a series of penthouse condominiums on the waterfront here, where the National Rifle Association member sought to have a shooting range constructed, and became a benefactor of Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he died after having endowed an ophthalmology professorship at the Wilmer Eye Institute. His novels and movies, meanwhile, are peppered with Baltimore plot lines and references-including in 1993's Without Remorse, in which the main character exacts revenge on a Baltimore drug gang that tortured and killed his girlfriend.
Clancy is undoubtedly the most famous graduate of Baltimore's Loyola University, easily outstripping Black Hawk Down author Mark Bowden and Wide World of Sports host Jim McKay, who, like Clancy, also went to Loyola Blakefield, the Catholic high school in Baltimore County. Clancy's literary fame was pop-culturally canonized when, in a Simpsons 2004 episode "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife," he voiced himself responding to a request that he provide a blurb promoting Marge Simpson's book. "Would I say, 'If you're hunting for a good read this October, Marge Simpson's book is a clear and present danger to your free time?'" says Clancy. "Hell, no I wouldn't. What do you mean I just said it? That doesn't count!"