Charleston novelist James Oliver Rigney Jr., 58, known to millions of readers by the pen name Robert Jordan, the best-selling author of "The Wheel of Time" fantasy series, died Sunday after a fight with the rare blood disease amyloidosis, a progressive disorder first diagnosed in December 2005 at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Rigney, who also wrote novels under the nom de plume Reagan O'Neal, succumbed to complications from primary amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy.

In an open letter to the science fiction magazine Locus in April of 2006, Rigney said he had been diagnosed with a disorder that affects only eight people out of one million each year.

The most popular fantasy author since J.R.R. Tolkien, Rigney was born in 1948 in Charleston. A graduate of The Citadel who earned a degree in physics, he served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, winning a Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star and two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry. A lifelong history buff and voracious reader, he also wrote dance and theater criticism. He had been writing full time since 1977.

His "Wheel of Time" series was among the best-selling in the history of fantasy publishing, with thousands of Web sites devoted in whole or in part to his writing. He also wrote many of the popular "Conan the Barbarian" books, picking up from series creator Robert E. Howard.

A note published on his blog, www.dragonmount.com, announcing his death continued to fill up with comments from fans from across the globe Sunday night as word spread.

At the time of his death, Rigney was one of the leading lights of the Lowcountry literary community. Along with outdoor activities, he liked playing poker and chess and collecting hats and pipes.

He is survived by his wife, Harriet McDougal Rigney.

Funeral arrangements will be announced later this week.

Reach Bill Thompson at 937-5707 or at bthompson@postandcourier.com