The creator of Forrest Gump has died. Winston Groom wrote 22 books in his lifetime, including one, Conversations with the Enemy, that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. The most famous was Forrest Gump, which was first published in 1986 and then became a best-seller after it was turned into an Oscar-winning film by director Robert Zemeckis. According to the Tuscaloosa Thread, Groom died on “Wednesday night at his home in Point Clear, Alabama.” He was 77 years old.

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Groom was born in Washington D.C. in 1943, and raised in Alabama. He served in the Vietnam War, and became a reporter after he returned home. Eventually, he decided to quit to pursue a career as a full-time author. Many of his books touched upon the Vietnam War, including Forrest Gump and his debut novel, Better Times Than These.

Groom later said the idea for the character of Forrest Gump came in conversation with his father, who knew someone like Forrest as a child. This boy was teased and bullied because of his limited intelligence — until the day the boy’s mother bought him a piano, which he immediately mastered. After they other kids in the neighborhood realized his talents, they embraced him. Around the same time, Groom saw a 60 Minutes feature on savants, and the novel began to take shape in his mind. It only took him six weeks to write the entire thing. Groom claimed the book basically “wrote itself.”

Although the book was not an immediate hit, it took off after Zemeckis adapted Forrest Gump, selling more than 2.5 million copies. The film varies in some ways from the novel, which has even more outlandish episodes. (In the book, Forrest Gump becomes an astronaut and a chess champion, among other escapades trimmed from the film.) But they both share the character that became so beloved in the 1990s. Groom would later write a sequel to the novel and film called Gump & Co. Despite several attempts, it was never made into a movie.

Here’s a conversation with Groom about Forrest Gump and his career as an author.

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