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Leon Uris, Author of ‘Exodus,’ Dies at 78

by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

June 26, 2003 | 8:00 pm

Author Leon Uris poses April 16, 1964 in London. Uris, 78, the author of the million-selling novel "Exodus," died of natural causes June 21, 2003 at his New York Shelter Island home according to his ex-wife Jill Uris.  Photo by Getty Images

Author Leon Uris poses April 16, 1964 in London. Uris, 78, the author of the million-selling novel "Exodus," died of natural causes June 21, 2003 at his New York Shelter Island home according to his ex-wife Jill Uris. Photo by Getty Images

Leon Uris, the novelist and screenwriter whose best-known works are "Exodus," a popular novel about Jews trying to establish modern Israel, and "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," perhaps the archetypal Hollywood Western, died June 21 at his home on Shelter Island, N.Y. He was 78.

The cause of death was renal failure, said his former wife, photographer Jill Uris.

In preparing to write "Exodus," Uris read nearly 300 books, underwent a physical training program in preparation for about 12,000 miles of travel within Israel's borders and interviewed thousands of people. The resulting work became a record-setting best seller.

Leon Marcus Uris was born on Aug. 3, 1924, in Baltimore, the second child and only son of Wolf William Uris, a shopkeeper, and Anna Blumberg Uris, Jews of Russian-Polish origin. His mother was a first-generation American and his father an immigrant from Poland, who on his way to the United States had spent a year in Palestine after World War I and had derived his surname from Yerushalmi, meaning man of Jerusalem.

After attending public schools in Norfolk, Va., Baltimore and Philadelphia and making up his mind to become a writer despite his having been failed three times by one of his English teachers, Uris quit high school shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (he was halfway through his senior year). He joined the Marine Corps and served as a radio operator in the campaigns at Guadalcanal and Tarawa.

While researching "Exodus," Uris worked as a war correspondent, reporting on the Sinai campaign in the fall of 1956. The novel, published by Doubleday & Company two years later, was translated into several dozen languages and sold millions of copies.

His last novel, "O'Hara's Choice," a love story involving the history of the Marines, was scheduled before his illness to be published in October by HarperCollins.

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