'Three Cups of Tea' co-author David Oliver Relin dies in suicide at age 49

Associated Press
In this November 2011 photo provided by the Central Asia Institute, the group's co-founder, Greg Mortenson, left, practices counting with first-graders in one of CAI’s four schools in Zebak District, Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan. A federal judge on Monday, April 30, 2012 dismissed a lawsuit against author Mortenson, calling claims "flimsy and speculative" that the humanitarian and his publisher lied in his best-selling "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools" to boost book sales.  (AP Photo/Central Asia Institute, Sarfraz Khan)
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In this November 2011 photo provided by the Central Asia Institute, the group's co-founder, Greg Mortenson, left, practices counting with first-graders in one of CAI’s four schools in Zebak District, Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan. A federal judge on Monday, April 30, 2012 dismissed a lawsuit against author Mortenson, calling claims "flimsy and speculative" that the humanitarian and his publisher lied in his best-selling "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools" to boost book sales. (AP Photo/Central Asia Institute, Sarfraz Khan)

David Oliver Relin, co-author of the bestselling book "Three Cups of Tea," said in legal filings more than a year before his suicide that his career had been hurt by allegations of fabrications in the book recounting how Greg Mortenson started building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Relin committed suicide in Corbett, Ore., outside Portland, on Nov. 14, said the deputy Multnomah County medical examiner, Peter Bellant, late Sunday. Relin was 49.

Relin died of blunt force head injury, Bellant said. He declined to provide other details.

The book, which has sold about 4 million copies since being published in 2006, describes how Mortenson became lost after a failed mountaineering expedition and was nursed back to health in a Pakistani village. Based on the villagers' kindness and the poverty he saw, he resolved to build a school for them.

The account came under scrutiny last year when "60 Minutes" and writer Jon Krakauer alleged that it contained numerous fabrications.

In April, U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon rejected a lawsuit by four people who bought the book, dismissing claims that the two authors, the publisher, and a charity conspired to make Mortenson into a false hero to sell books and raise money for the charity. Haddon called the claims overly broad, flimsy and speculative.

In an August 2011 court filing, Relin attorney Sonia Montalbano said the litigation "has had a negative impact on Relin's livelihood as an author."

She said "Relin does not personally maintain any insurance for this litigation, which means that he has to personally fund his defence."

In another filing, Montalbano said "Relin takes no position on many of the accusations made by the Plaintiff" but Relin "does stand by the manuscript he wrote."

She pointed out that in an introduction Relin wrote for "Three Cups of Tea," he "fully acknowledged potential inaccuracies." In that introduction, Relin wrote that Mortenson's "fluid sense of time made pinning down the exact sequence of many events in this book almost impossible."

Following allegations that parts of "Three Cups of Tea" were fabricated, Mortenson denied any wrongdoing, though he has acknowledged some of the events were compressed over different periods of time.

"Three Cups of Tea" was conceived as a way to raise money for and tell the story of Mortenson's Central Asia Institute, which he co-founded in 1996 to build schools in Central Asia.

Montalbano described Relin in court documents as a journalist looking to write his first book when he was approached by a magazine editor Mortenson contacted looking for a writer to tell his story.

Relin then interviewed Mortenson, attended several of his lectures and read previous articles before preparing a book proposal that was bought by Penguin Group. After selling Penguin on the idea, Relin then conducted more interviews with Mortenson and others before writing the manuscript, Montalbano said.

In a 2008 interview with the University of Oregon literary journal Etude, Relin said he had objected to Mortenson being identified as co-author.

"That's been the only negative thing about this whole adventure for me," Relin said. "After I turned in the manuscript, I received a galley back from the publisher with two names on it. It was published that way over my objections."

In that interview, Relin said he and Mortensen were introduced by a magazine editor.

"Greg asked me to write his story," Relin said. "I agreed, and began chasing him around the world over the course of several years.

"All of us at Penguin are saddened to hear of the death of David Oliver Relin. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family," the publisher said in a statement.

The Democrat and Chronicle newspaper reported Relin was from Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Vassar College and the Iowa Writers Workshop.

His second book, "Second Suns, Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives," was scheduled to be published in June.

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AP writer Matt Volz contributed to this report from Helena, Mont.

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