“True Grit” author Charles Portis dies, 86

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA) — Arkansas native and well-known novelist Charles Portis died Monday, February 17, at a hospice facility in Little Rock. He was 86.

Portis wrote:

  • True Grit, it was made as a movie twice
  • Norwood
  • The Dog of the South
  • Masters of Atlantis
  • Gringos

He was born in El Dorado and raised in south Arkansas. He studied journalism at the University of Arkansas.

Portis is survived by two brothers, several nephews, nieces, grandnieces, and grandnephews.

Ruebel Funeral Home in Little Rock is coordinating the service.

OBITUARY: Charles McColl Portis

Dec 28, 1933 – Feb 17th, 2020

  • Birth Date: Dec 28, 1933
  • Death Date: Feb 17, 2020
  • Funeral Date: Feb 25, 2020, 10:00 am
  • Location: Second Presbyterian Church of Little Rock

Biography: Charles McColl Portis, 86, of Little Rock, died Monday, February 17, 2020. He was the son of the late Samuel Palmer Portis and Alice Waddell Portis. His beloved sister, Aliece Portis Sawyer, died in 1958.

Charles, known as “Buddy” and “Charlie” to his family and friends, was born Dec. 28, 1933, in El Dorado. He grew up in El Dorado, Norphlet, Mount Holly and Hamburg, all in south Arkansas.

After graduating from Hamburg High School, Charles enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and fought in the Korean War, serving with H Company, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, 1st Marine Division, to battle the invading Communist Chinese and North Korean forces. He was promoted to sergeant and received several commendations for his service.

He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas in 1958. He was a reporter at the Northwest Arkansas Times in Fayetteville and the Commercial Appeal in Memphis. He was a reporter and columnist for the Arkansas Gazette, a writer for Newsweek magazine and was the London bureau chief for the New York Herald-Tribune.

Charles published fine novels, numerous magazine articles, and short stories and one stage play. He was perhaps best known for his 1968 novel, True Grit, which was a New York Times best-seller, and was made into two acclaimed motion pictures, though neither film measured up to Charles’s masterwork. The novel also became a television program and inspired a film sequel caller Rooster Cogburn. His first novel, Norwood, published in 1966, was made into a movie in 1970.

His articles, short stories, and memoirs were published in such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly and The Oxford American. Much of this work was collected in Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany, edited by Jay Jennings and published by the Central Arkansas Library System.

Buddy was a devoted son, a generous brother, a doting uncle and a steadfast friend. He shunned the spotlight, social events, and self-promotion while quietly mentoring other writers who somehow managed to find him. He loved dogs and cats, having no preference for one species over another. As a teenager he worked as an apprentice mechanic at a Chevrolet dealership, setting off a lifelong fascination for working on used cars and trucks in his spare time. He was a voracious reader, a habit he acquired while serving in the Marine Corps.

He was a really funny guy with an uncanny gift for observing human behavior and capturing it in a sui generis style of writing that fascinated fans and critics. “Charlie thinks things no one else thinks,” his friend, the late Nora Ephron, once said.

Charles is survived by his brothers, Dr. Richard P. Portis (Leah) and Jonathan W. Portis; nephews Samuel Portis Sawyer, Robert Paul Sawyer (Nathania), Charles J. Portis, Cameron Aviles (Samantha) and Palmer Aviles; nieces Dr. Susan Portis-Ferguson (Michael), Jane Portis and Toni Portis King (Rob); grandnieces and grandnephews Laura Davis, Walter Ferguson, Cora Ferguson, Allison King, and Timothy King.

The funeral service will be held at 10:00 a.m., Tuesday, February 25, 2020, at Second Presbyterian Church, 600 Pleasant Valley Drive, Little Rock, Arkansas 72227, followed by a graveside service at 2:30 p.m. at Hamburg Cemetery in Hamburg, Arkansas.

Charles’s family is grateful to the staff of the Parkway Shell Alzheimer’s Center, the McClellan Veterans Hospital, Hospice Home Care, and the owners, staff, and friends at Rivercliff Apartments and the Faded Rose Restaurant.

The best way to honor Charles’s memory is to make a generous donation to the Humane Society of Pulaski County, Arkansas

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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