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Robert James Waller (1939 - 2017)

Getty Images / Barry King

Robert James Waller (1939 - 2017)

Robert James Waller, the writer who penned the 1992 best-seller “The Bridges of Madison County,” died Friday, March 10, 2017, according to multiple news sources. Waller, who had cancer, was 77.

Waller grew up in Iowa, the setting of his famous novel, and was a professor of management, economics, and applied mathematics at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls from 1968 to 1991. He also served as the dean of UNI’s College of Business from 1981 to 1986.

“The Bridges of Madison County,” the story of a love affair between Francesca, an Iowa farm wife, and Robert, a worldly National Geographic photographer in Iowa to document the area's covered bridges, was Waller’s first novel. Though many critics panned it as cliched and sentimental, it proved immensely popular, eventually selling over 12 million copies. The book debuted on The New York Times best-seller list in August 1992, and slowly rose to the top; the book remained on the list for over three years, through Oct. 8, 1995.

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“Bridges,” as fans called it, was turned into a hit 1995 movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. The film earned $182 million. The novel also inspired a Broadway musical and a tourism boom to see covered bridges near small towns in southwestern Iowa, particularly Winterset.

Following the novel’s success, Waller and his family moved from Iowa to a ranch in rural Texas. An affair with the ranch’s landscaper, Linda Bow, ended his 36-year marriage to Georgia Ann Wiedemeier in 1997. Waller and Bow were married in 2004; she survives him.

Waller wrote six more novels, the last published in 2007. 1992’s “Puerto Vallarta Squeeze” also was made into a movie, and 2002’s “A Thousand Country Roads” was a sequel to “The Bridges of Madison County.”

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