Author's passing mourned
"The Wheel of Time turns and ages come and pass."
This line from the books of James O. Rigney, revered by millions as the novelist Robert Jordan, seems a fitting epitaph. But the books of Rigney's immensely popular "Wheel of Time" fantasy series are likely to endure.
Rigney died Sunday at age 58 after a long fight with the rare blood disease amyloidosis, a progressive disorder first diagnosed in December 2005 at the Medical University of South Carolina. Rigney succumbed to complications from primary amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy.
The most popular fantasy author since J.R.R. Tolkien, Rigney was born in 1948 in Charleston. A 1974 graduate of The Citadel who earned a degree in physics, he served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the Army, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star and two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry. He was a helicopter door gunner.
A life-long history buff and voracious reader, he also wrote dance and theater criticism. He had been writing full time since 1977.
Published by TOR Books, "The Wheel of Time" series is generally regarded as the most detailed and richly imagined realm since "The Lord of the Rings." It 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. At the time of his death, Rigney had sold 15 million copies in North America and an estimated 30 million copies globally.
Rigney cultivated a close relationship with fan Web sites, including www.dragonmount.com, on which he hosted his blog. As of Monday night more than 1,100 messages had been posted on Dragonmount, with fans expressing shock and grief.
The response was no less pronounced locally.
"Jim was very nurturing and generous," South Carolina Poet Laureate and family friend Marjory Wentworth said. "He cared so much about writing and other writers. Jim certainly meant a great deal to the Lowcountry's literary community. To have someone of Jim Rigney's stature come to a local Poetry Society reading and take you seriously as a writer was very important."
Citadel President Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa said, "He was known to the world as Robert Jordan, but at The Citadel, we knew him as Jim Rigney, a devoted alumnus and a true friend and benefactor to the college. In a 2003 article for 'The Citadel' magazine, he wrote, 'I bleed Citadel blue.' It was a testament to his strong ties for the college. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to his family."
In addition to his signature "The Wheel of Time" novels, Rigney was the author of the Michael Fallon historical romance trilogy, penned under the nom de plume Reagan O'Neal, as well as seven Conan novels, beginning with "Conan the Invincible" (1982).
His longtime publisher and friend in New York, Tom Doherty of TOR Books, said, "I'd known him for 30 years. His wife Harriet and I go back even longer, to when she was an editor with me in 1969, one of the most the brilliant editors I ever worked with. Jim was such a great guy. So many writers, when they get to be stars, become prima donnas. Not Jim. I truly believe he's one of the great storytellers of the 20th and early 21st centuries."
Rigney is survived by his wife, Harriet Popham Rigney; a son, William Popham McDougal of Housatonic, Mass.; a brother, Reynolds W. Rigney of New Orleans; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Relatives and friends are invited to his funeral services at 11 a.m. Wednesday in St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. Interment is private but friends may call at the Church Social Hall after the service.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in the name of Jim Rigney to the Hematologic Malignancies Program for Amyloidosis Research, Department of Development, Mayo Foundation, 200 First Street S.W., Rochester MN 55905.