CORNISH, NH -- J.D. Salinger, the legendary author, youth hero and fugitive from fame whose "The Catcher in the Rye" shocked and inspired a world he increasingly shunned, has died. He was 91.
Salinger died of natural causes at his home on Wednesday, the author's son said in a statement from Salinger's longtime literary representative, Harold Ober Agency. He had lived for decades in self-imposed isolation in the small, remote house in Cornish, N.H.
"The Catcher in the Rye," with its immortal teenage protagonist, the twisted, rebellious Holden Caulfield, came out in 1951, a time of anxious, Cold War conformity and the dawn of modern adolescence. The Book-of-the-Month Club, which made "Catcher" a featured selection, advised that for "anyone who has ever brought up a son" the novel will be "a source of wonder and delight - and concern."
Enraged by all the "phonies" who make "me so depressed I go crazy," Holden soon became American literature's most famous anti-hero since Huckleberry Finn. The novel's sales are astonishing - more than 60 million copies worldwide - and its impact incalculable. Decades after publication, the book remains a defining expression of that most American of dreams: to never grow up.
Salinger was writing for adults, but teenagers from all over identified with the novel's themes of alienation, innocence and fantasy, not to mention the luck of having the last word. "Catcher" presents the world as an ever-so-unfair struggle between the goodness of young people and the corruption of elders, a message that only intensified with the oncoming generation gap.
Novels from Evan Hunter's "The Blackboard Jungle" to Curtis Sittenfeld's "Prep," movies from "Rebel Without a Cause" to "The Breakfast Club," and countless rock 'n' roll songs echoed Salinger's message of kids under siege. One of the great anti-heroes of the 1960s, Benjamin Braddock of "The Graduate," was but a blander version of Salinger's narrator.
"`Catcher in the Rye' made a very powerful and surprising impression on me," said Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, who read the book, as so many did, when he was in middle school. "Part of it was the fact that our seventh grade teacher was actually letting us read such a book. But mostly it was because `Catcher' had such a recognizable authenticity in the voice that even in 1977 or so, when I read it, felt surprising and rare in literature."
The cult of "Catcher" turned tragic in 1980 when crazed Beatles fan Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon, citing Salinger's novel as an inspiration and stating that "this extraordinary book holds many answers."
By the 21st century, Holden himself seemed relatively mild, but Salinger's book remained a standard in school curriculums and was discussed on countless Web sites and a fan page on Facebook.
On the Web Thursday, there was an outpouring of sadness for the loss of Salinger, as many flocked together on social networks to relate their memories of "Catcher in the Rye." Topics such as "Salinger" and "Holden Caufield" were among the most popular on Twitter. CNN's Larry King tweeted that "Catcher" is his favorite book. Humorist John Hodgman wrote: "I prefer to think JD Salinger has just decided to become extra reclusive."
Salinger's other books don't equal the influence or sales of "Catcher," but they are still read, again and again, with great affection and intensity. Critics, at least briefly, rated Salinger as a more accomplished and daring short story writer than John Cheever.