Patricia Nell Warren died Saturday at age 82, reports LGBTQ Nation. The cause of death is not yet known.
The novelist, activist, and longtime editor at Reader's Digest is best known for her 1974 book, The Front Runner, which centered on the relationship between a closeted coach, Harlan Brown, and an out gay track star, Billy Sive.
The love story became the first gay novel in modern times to achieve commercial success and rank in The New York Times bestseller list. To date, it has sold over 10 million copies and has been translated into multiple languages. Warren came out as a lesbian shortly after the book's release.
The Front Runner's success sparked Hollywood's interest, and actor Paul Newman was once attached to a possible production. However, a film adaptation never came to fruition.
In her writing career, Warren wrote over 10 novels, among them several sequels to The Front Runner: Harlan’s Race in 1994 and Billy’s Boy in 1997. The author announced she intended to write a fourth and final book for the series in 2017, which she was working on when she died.
By first writing Harlan's story, Warren "hoped non-gay people would read the book as well as gay people," the author stated on The Front Runner's website. "Hopefully, the story of Harlan’s inner battle, his defeats and his victories, would spark the sympathies of as many people as possible. "
"When the book was written as well as today, stereotypes of gay males as limp-wristed liberals is embedded in people’s minds," she continued. "Harlan is a crusty gay ex-Marine, a drill-sergeant kind of guy. I wanted to confront readers with the inner reality of such a man because I know they exist."
News of Warren's death sparked an outpouring of love on social media from fans and LGBTQ folks, who were helped in their coming-out journeys through Warren's words.
Patricia Nell Warren died yesterday. She was 82. Her first novel, The Front Runner, was the first work of contemporary gay fiction to make the @nytimesbooks Best Seller list and the first gay love story I'd ever read. I was 17 and wept, but it gave me hope. pic.twitter.com/mbBMxesbqD
— Eric Marcus (@EricBMarcus) February 10, 2019
My first real exposure to the possibility that being gay could be “normal” was when I found and read the novel “The Front Runner” written by Patricia Nell Warren! I read her other books and was always so grateful... https://t.co/9oAs5WSd9E
— Bob Brandenburg (@BobBrandenburg) February 10, 2019
The Front Runner: one of the very first affirming gay messages I received as a teen. Patricia Nell Warren gave a real gift to so many gay men in an era when pro-gay lit was rare. I’ll never forget how it made me feel normal for the first time. https://t.co/BEZDwtN2il pic.twitter.com/DuUqOvKC8V
— Guys in Disguise (@GuysinDisguise) February 10, 2019
I’m so incredibly saddened to hear of the death of my friend, the author Patricia Nell Warren. An amazing body of work, an amazing person. I was gifted to spend the time with her that I did.
— Christopher Rice (@chrisricewriter) February 10, 2019
In his obituary for LGBTQ Nation, writer Bil Browning, who described Warrren as his "friend and mentor," stated, "Patricia wasn’t just an amazing author. She was an inspiration to a generation of gays and lesbians who were venturing out of the closet in numbers, but still felt terrified when alone."
"As a bookish gay teenager from rural Indiana, before I knew about Harvey Milk, I had read Patricia Nell Warren. She gave me hope. Her novel changed my life when I first read it as a depressed teenager," Browning said.