Clifford Irving, the notorious author "who perpetrated one of the biggest literary hoaxes of the 20th century in the early 1970s when he concocted a supposedly authorized autobiography of the billionaire Howard Hughes based on meetings and interviews that never took place," died December 19, the New York Times reported. He was 87.
Irving came up with the idea for The Autobiography of Howard Hughes after reading "The Case of the Invisible Billionaire," an article about the reclusive Hughes published in the December 1970 issue of Newsweek. Having recently published Fake!: The Story of Elmyr de Hory, the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time, Irving, "perhaps inspired by his subject," convinced editors at McGraw-Hill that Hughes had contacted him to express admiration for Fake! and propose collaborating on a similar project.
The rest is publishing history. Irving received a $750,000 advance from McGraw-Hill, Life magazine bought the serial rights for $250,000, and Dell obtained the paperback rights for $400,000. As publication neared, Irving "bluffed his way past editors, lawyers, handwriting experts and even skeptical journalists who had interviewed Hughes in the past," the Times wrote. Just as the book was ready to go to press, however, "the scheme began to unravel" and, as "the evidence piled up, the house of cards collapsed." Both Irving and his research assistant, Richard Suskind, served prison time, though the two later co-wrote Clifford Irving: What Really Happened in 1972.
Irving's many books include On a Darkling Plain; The Losers; The Valley; Daddy's Girl: The Campbell Murder Case; Trial; and Final Argument.