Winston Groom, Army veteran and author, passed away on September 17 at the age of 77 years old. Groom is best known as the author of the novel “Forrest Gump” which was turned into an award-winning movie in 1994.
The film, starring Tom Hanks, Sally Fields and Gary Sinise, won six Oscars in 1995 including Best Picture, Best Director (for Robert Zemeckis) and Best actor (for Hanks). It was the second-highest grossing movie of the year after “The Lion King.”
The movie follows the title character through his life as he repeatedly finds himself in the middle of historic events like the Vietnam War or Alabama governor George Wallace’s “stand at the schoolhouse door” and meeting historic people like multiple presidents.
But the movie cleaned up the hero, toning down his profanity and leaving out much of his sexual experiences.
Groom wrote the book after hearing his father tell a story about a child he had known who was mentally disabled but could play the piano beautifully. Groom thought that would make an interesting character. He went home and had the first chapter of “Forrest Gump” written that night. The rest of the book was finished in six weeks. When he showed it to his mentor, Willie Morris, the only advice he received was, “Don’t change a word.”
Groom signed over the film rights for $350,000 plus 3% of the movie’s net profit. He had a major confrontation with Paramount Pictures after they tried to tell him the movie had not made any profit even though it had earned $600 million at the box office.
When he wrote the sequel to the book, “Gump and Co.,” he received an even better deal for the film rights. Somehow, even though Hollywood has seemed infatuated with sequels, another Gump movie has never been made.
Still, Groom was not bitter. He said that the filmmakers did an excellent job turning the book into a film. While he admitted that he would have preferred to see his version on the screen, he also felt that his version would not have been successful as a film.
Mayor Karin Wilson of Fairhope, Alabama, issued a message on social media to report the death of Groom. She said that, while the world will remember him for Forrest Gump, he was also a journalist and the author of several books about American history.
Groom graduated in 1965 from the University of Alabama. He served in the Fourth Infantry Division of the US Army from 1965 to 1969. While serving, he had a tour in Vietnam which is one of the settings he would later use in “Forrest Gump.”
He published sixteen books in both fiction and nonfiction. His book about an American prisoner of war in Vietnam who was accused of collaboration with the enemy, “Conversations with the Enemy,” was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.
His nonfiction books covered subjects ranging from the Civil War to World War I and even Alabama Crimson Tide football.
His recent novels include 2005’s “1942: The Year that Tried Men’s Souls,” about the USA’s first year of involvement in World War I; 2009’s “Vicksburg 1863,” an account of the Union’s siege of that city; and 2016’s “El Paso,” his last published novel.
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According to Groom’s wife, Susan Groom, the death was not expected. She said that it was thought that it was related to his heart somehow.