Jim Rigney (Robert Jordan)

Robert Jordan dies at age 58

By Bill Thompson
The Post and Courier
Monday, September 17, 2007

Charleston novelist James Oliver Rigney Jr., 58, known to millions of readers by the pen name Robert Jordan, the best-selling author of "The Wheel of Time" fantasy series, died Sunday after a fight with the rare blood disease amyloidosis, a progressive disorder first diagnosed in December 2005 at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Rigney, who also wrote novels under the nom de plume Reagan O'Neal, succumbed to complications from primary amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy.

In an open letter to the science fiction magazine Locus in April of 2006, Rigney said he had been diagnosed with a disorder that affects only eight people out of one million each year.

The most popular fantasy author since J.R.R. Tolkien, Rigney was born in 1948 in Charleston. A graduate of The Citadel who earned a degree in physics, he served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, winning a Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star and two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry. A lifelong history buff and voracious reader, he also wrote dance and theater criticism. He had been writing full time since 1977.

His "Wheel of Time" series was among the best-selling in the history of fantasy publishing, with thousands of Web sites devoted in whole or in part to his writing. He also wrote many of the popular "Conan the Barbarian" books, picking up from series creator Robert E. Howard.

A note published on his blog, www.dragonmount.com, announcing his death continued to fill up with comments from fans from across the globe Sunday night as word spread.

At the time of his death, Rigney was one of the leading lights of the Low country literary community. Along with outdoor activities, he liked playing poker and chess and collecting hats and pipes.

He is survived by his wife, Harriet McDougal Rigney.

A poem by Mrs. Rigney


Outside the hospital, among the glittering cars,
tears come so heavy they obscure the sun,
December’s burning glass.

By the elevators that go to Cardio,
machines will sell the morning paper.
In with the change, look for the special quarters,
save them, do, you stupid bitch, and get his
news. Then down the hall for coffee
and a biscuit. He will not eat the food they bring him.

Congestive heart failure, they say.

What? They utter this word “amyloid” –
“ami” as amicable, “loid” as in Lloyd.
They say “progressive.”
Then comes“fatal”.
The doctors say, Now take him home.
One says, It’s my vacation, off to the Dakotas.
One says, I have too much to do.
One’s office says, She’s gone for Christmas.

So he is home,
and we have Christmas.

I press on, feeding people,
smiling, pouring wine.
Alone, I crawl along the Web,
spinning, spinning, spinning,
poison silk of facts, of doubts,
of hideous prognosis.

So he is home,
and we have Christmas.

– Harriet Popham Rigney

S.C. academy honors late fantasy writer

Published on 03/02/08
The Post and Courier

The man who supplanted J.R.R. Tol-kien as his era's most read, discussed and admired author of fantasy fiction will be inducted Saturday into the South Carolina Academy of Authors.

The posthumous honor for the late Charleston native James Oliver Rigney Jr., best known by the pen name Robert Jordan, will be presented during ceremonies at Rigney's alma mater, The Citadel, at 7 p.m.

Rigney, the academy's 47th inductee, joins august company, with contemporaries such as James Dickey, Pat Conroy, Josephine Humphreys and John Jakes already on the rolls. Membership in the academy is among the state's most prestigious literary honors. Born in 1948 in Charleston, Rigney earned a degree in physics from The Citadel, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam with the Army, during which he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star with "V," and two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry.

His writing career began in 1977, and he wrote steadily, prolifically, until his death Sept. 16. Rigney penned a trilogy of historical novels set in Charleston under the nom de plume Reagan O'Neal in the early 1980s, and later picked up the baton on Robert E. Howard's "Conan the Barbarian" series. But he won global renown for his epic "The Wheel of Time" series, the most recent of which, "Knife of Dreams," was published in 2005. He was working on a 12th volume at the time of his death.

Rigney's works have been translated into more than 20 languages, his books selling more than 30 million copies at last count. The academy, the state's literary hall of fame, was founded at Anderson College in 1986. Its purpose is "to identify and recognize the state's distinguished writers, living and deceased." Apart from its induction ceremonies, the academy's educational focus is demonstrated in its sponsorship of cash-award literary fellowships, the goal being to nurture new literary achievement. Current Charleston area members of the academy's board include Oliver Bowman, Melanie Harris, Linda Annas Ferguson and Ellen Hyatt.

The ceremony is sponsored by the Board of Governors of the academy in conjunction with the department of English at The Citadel, the Poetry Society of South Carolina and the South Carolina Center for the Book.

For more information, call 762-9729.