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Diehl, William 1924-2006 (William Francis Diehl, Jr.)

OBITUARY NOTICE—

See index for CA sketch: Born December 4, 1924, in Jamaica, NY; died of an aortic aneurism, November 24, 2006, in Atlanta, GA. Journalist, photographer, and author. Diehl was a former journalist and freelance photographer who late in life turned to writing thrillers, including the best sellers Sharky's Machine and Primal Fear. As a child, his babysitter was Mae West, who went on to become a famous Hollywood actress. On a school trip, he was present when the Hindenburg dirigible exploded into flames. When America entered World War II, Diehl, then only seventeen, lied about his age and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was assigned the most dangerous job of all: ball turret gunner. Unlike many men with this job, Diehl survived, though he did suffer frostbite that would eventually cause him to lose six toes. Awarded a Purple Heart, Flying Cross, and Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, he next attended the University of Missouri after the war. Graduating in 1949, he sought work at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Diehl had no appointment, but brazenly approached editor Ralph McGill, who gave the young man a job writing obituaries out of respect for his war service. Diehl later became a reporter and remained at the newspaper until 1955. He then worked as a freelancer until 1960, when he accepted a job as managing editor of the magazine Atlanta. Also involved in acting for theater groups from 1958 to 1963, Diehl left the magazine in 1966 and was a consulting editor for two years before returning to freelance life. Having taught himself camera skills while at Atlanta, Diehl was a freelance photographer when he became involved with the civil rights movement. While taking pictures for the United States Information Agency, he met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was helping in King's cause when Diehl was attacked by racists who slashed his throat. Diehl survived to continue his life as a photographer. A turning point came during his fiftieth birthday, however. He was presented with an ice cream cake shaped like a typewriter, and when it melted it seemed to him a symbol of dreams unpursued. Diehl decided at that moment to try his hand at novel writing. Selecting thriller novels as his genre of choice, he completed Sharky's Machine in 1978. It became a best seller and was adapted as a Burt Reynold's movie in 1981. While some critics complained that Diehl's writing could be awkward and sluggish at times, audiences loved the fast-paced, violent thrillers and crime stories. Diehl would go on to publish nine novels and was almost done with a tenth, Seven Ways to Die, when he passed away. Among his other books are Hooligans (1984), 27 (1990; later published as The Hunter), Primal Fear (1993), which was also made into a movie, and Eureka (2002).

OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Chicago Tribune, November 28, 2006, section 3, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2006, p. B8.

New York Times, November 29, 2006, p. A25.

Times (London, England), January 2, 2007, p. 48.

Washington Post, November 29, 2006, p. B7.

Diehl, William 1924-2006 (William Francis Diehl, Jr.)

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