Monday, July 20, 2009 9:55 PM ET | By Scotty Gore
Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the best-selling memoir Angela’s Ashes, passes away at age 78, following complications associated with melanoma.
Editor’s note: While we here at SON don’t normally report on news outside of the soap world, in this case we decided to make an exception, given Frank McCourt’s ties to the daytime drama “One Life to Live.”
The eldest-born of seven children to poor Irish immigrants, Frank McCourt was born in near poverty in Brooklyn, New York on August 19, 1930. With the United States firmly entrenched in the Great Depression, work proved difficult to come by for his parents, Malachy and Angela McCourt.
Hoping to improve the family’s fortunes, the family packed up and returned to his mother’s hometown of Limerick in her native Ireland when McCourt was only three years old. However, shortly after arriving on the Emerald Isle, the family sunk further into poverty. Often unemployed, Malachy earned very little money, which he would often use to buy booze to support his alcoholism. By the time McCourt reached eleven years of age, his father moved to Liverpool in the United Kingdom to find factory work during World War II.
As the months went by, the elder McCourt send almost no money back to Ireland to support Frank, his mother, and his three surviving siblings (the other four children died of malnutrition and disease, even Frank himself nearly died of typhoid fever at age ten). In order to survive, McCourt dropped out of school at 13, held several odd jobs, and eventually stole milk and bread from area stores to feed his family.
At the age of 19, Frank McCourt returned to the United States, and soon found himself drafted and sent to fight on the German front. Following the war, he returned to the U.S. and, thanks to the G.I. Bill, was able to attend and graduate from New York University. Receiving a Master’s degree from Brooklyn College, McCourt embarked on a thirty year teaching career McKee, and later Stuyvesant, High School in NYC, where he taught English.
McCourt wrote his signature memoir Angela’s Ashes, illustrating his impoverished childhood in Ireland, in 1996. Among other things, McCourt notes in the novel how as a child, entire blocks of houses were forced to share a single outhouse, many of the homes were constantly flooded by torrential downpours, and infested with rodents. The highly successful book earned McCourt a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1996, and a Pulitzer Prize in 1997. It was during that year that he made a special guest appearance as himself on the ABC Daytime soap opera “One Life to Live,” where his brother Malachy was in the midst of the recurring role of ruthless Irish terrorist Thomas Kenneally (part of the group of men who tried to kill poet Patrick Thornhart). Malachy’s other soap credits include “Ryan’s Hope,” “Search for Tomorrow,” and “All My Children,” where he portrays Father Clarence each Christmas.
Following up on the success of Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt went on to publish two additional books; ‘Tis (1999) picks up where the first book left off and chronicles his new life in America, and Teahcer Man (2005) deals with his the challenges and obstacles he faced as young, inexperienced teacher.
McCourt was a long-time member of the American Federation of Teachers and National Arts Club. After receiving the Award of Excellence of New York City’s ‘The International Center,’ he was presented with an honorary degree from the University of Western Ontario in 2002, at which time he was also awarded an Action Against Hunger Humanitarian Award.
Living in Connecticut at the time of his death, McCourt is survived by Ellen (his third wife), daughter Maggie (from his first wife), and three grandchild. He is also survived by three brothers (Malachy, Michael, and Alphie) and their families. Revealing in May that he had undergone treatment for melanoma and that he had since gone into remission, McCourt was in the process of taking home chemotherapy. However, after developing meningeal complications, Frank McCourt died at a New York City hospice on the evening of Sunday, July 19th. He was 78-years-old.
To read more about Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize-winner novel Angela’s Ashes, click here.