Fans couldn't turn the pages fast enough and a number of his thrillers, including "The Hunt for Red October," ''Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger," were made into blockbuster movies, with another Jack Ryan film set for release on Christmas Day.
"Fundamentally, I think of myself as a storyteller, not a writer," Clancy once said. "I think about the characters I've created, and then I sit down and start typing and see what they will do. There's a lot of subconscious thought that goes on."
A tall, trim figure given to wearing sunglasses that made him look like a fighter pilot, Clancy had such a sure grasp of defense technology and spycraft that many readers were convinced he served in the military. But his experience was limited to ROTC classes in college. Near-sightedness kept him out of active duty.
In 1982, he began working on "The Hunt for Red October," drawing inspiration from a real-life 1975 mutiny aboard a Soviet missile frigate. He sold the manuscript to the first publisher he tried, the Naval Institute Press, which had never bought original fiction. In real life, the mutiny was put down, but in Clancy's book, a Soviet submarine skipper hands his vessel over to the U.S. and defects.
Someone thought enough of the novel to give it to President Ronald Reagan as a Christmas gift. The president quipped at a dinner that he was losing sleep because he couldn't put the book down — a statement Clancy later said helped put him on the New York Times best-seller list.
"What happened to me was pure dumb luck. I'm not the new Hemingway," Clancy later said in an interview with the American Movie Channel.
"Of course, fortune does favor the brave. In battle, you forgive a man anything except an unwillingness to take risks. Sometimes you have to put it on the line. What I did was take time away from how I earned my living. My wife gave me hell. 'Why are you doing this?' But she doesn't complain anymore."