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Frank McCourt, Author of 'Angela's Ashes,' Dies at 78

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EW: During a time in which the word "survivor" is primarily used to describe jungle-dwelling reality stars, it's easy to marvel at Angela's Ashes author Frank McCourt, a man who endured enough childhood hardship to be cast as a true fighter. But rather than dwelling in misery, McCourt -- who died July 19 in New York City at age 78 after a battle with melanoma -- wrote about his life with a certain compassion and joie de vivre that won devoted readers across the globe.

And what an attraction his work was: Angela's Ashes -- a memoir that described McCourt's impoverished Irish upbringing -- quickly became one of the most successful books of the 1990s. The book topped best-seller lists, picked up both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and spawned a 1999 film adaptation starring Emily Watson.

McCourt certainly deserved the success, considering that his family was once in such dire straits, he nearly died of typhoid fever at the age of 10. Though born in New York City, McCourt was forced to move to his parents' native Ireland when the Great Depression made the United States unlivable. Unfortunately, the family struggled even more back in the homeland. McCourt lost three of his six siblings to malnutrition, and his father, an alcoholic, decided to abandon the family during their hardship.

After working several odd jobs in his teens, the author returned to the United States and attended New York University. Upon earning his degree, McCourt began to work teaching in the New York public school system, where he stayed for 27 years. It wasn't until he was 66 that McCourt published Angela's Ashes, a book that has sold over 4 million copies and has been published worldwide. He followed with two more memoirs -- 1999's 'Tis and 2005's Teacher Man -- as well as a children's Christmas book, 2005's Angela and the Baby Jesus.

Though his two sequels were plenty successful -- 'Tis and Teacher Man were instant best-sellers -- McCourt will best remembered for Angela's Ashes and its iconic opening line, which read, "When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all." But ever an optimist, McCourt writes one sentence later: "It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while."

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