'The Thorn Birds' author Colleen McCullough dies at age 77

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'The Thorn Birds' author Colleen McCullough dies at age 77
FILE - In this March 1, 1977 file photo, Australian author Colleen McCullough laughs during a news conference in New York. Best-selling author McCullough, whose novel "The Thorn Birds" sold 30 million copies worldwide, has died at age 77 after a long illness. McCullough died Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015 in hospital on remote Norfolk Island, HarperCollins Australia publishing director Shona Martyn said in a statement. (AP Photo/File)
PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 20. Australian writer Colleen McCullough during portrait session held on april 20, 1997 in hotel room in Paris, France. (Photo by Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)
NORFOLK ISLAND � 1990: Australian writer Colleen McCullough at home in Norfolk Island, Australia. (Photo by Patrick Riviere/Getty Images)
1983: British actress and former model Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlain in the television drama 'The Thorn Birds'. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Thorn Birds by Colleen Mc Cullough
Promotional portrait of American actor Richard Chamberlain (as Ralph de Bricassart) in costume for the television mini-series 'The Thorn Birds: the Missing Years' directed by Kevin James Dobson, 1996. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
Promotional portrait of American actor Richard Chamberlain (as Ralph de Bricassart) as he stands, arms crossed and in costume, in a garden on the set of the television mini-series 'The Thorn Birds: the Missing Years' directed by Kevin James Dobson, 1996. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
Promotional portrait of American actor Richard Chamberlain (as Ralph de Bricassart) and British actress Amanda Donohoe (as Meggie Cleary O'Neill) in costume for the television mini-series 'The Thorn Birds: the Missing Years' directed by Kevin James Dobson, 1996. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
(L-R) Actors Richard Chamberlain & Rachel Ward in scene fr. TV miniseries The Thorn Birds.. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Archive Photos/American Stock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Actress Jean Simmons wins award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special - The Thorn Birds, at the 35th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on September 25, 1983 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Joan Adlen/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Actress Barbara Stanwyck wins award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special - The Thorn Birds, at the 35th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on September 25, 1983 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Joan Adlen/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: (L) Actress Stefanie Powers and actor Robert Wagner present actress Barbara Stanwyck with award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Special - The Thorn Birds, at the 35th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on September 25, 1983 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Joan Adlen/Getty Images)
CANADA - JUNE 13: The Thorn Birds' Colleen McCullough. Now she can buy a pizza oven and all the coffee she wants (Photo by Graham Bezant/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
THE THORN BIRDS (TV) RACHEL WARD, RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN TTHB 015
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 31: Australian author, Colleen McCullough, in front of the Sydney Opera House on August 31, 2000 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Peter Carrette Archive/Getty Images)
NORFOLK ISLAND � 1990: Australian writer Colleen McCullough at home in Norfolk Island, Australia. (Photo by Patrick Riviere/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 9. Australian writer Colleen McCullough poses during a portrait session in her hotel room on November 9, 1990 in Paris,France.(Photo by Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)
Die Dornenvögel Teil 2 Thorn Birds, (Part Ii) Rachel Ward Die Clearys müssen einige Schicksalsschläge hinnehmen - Fees
Die Dornenvoegel - Teil1 Thorn Birds, (Part I) Richard Chamberlain Pater Ralph (Richard Chamberlain) entzieht sich jedoch
Die Dornenvögel Teil 2 Thorn Birds, (Part Ii) Barbara Stanwyck Als Mary Carson (Barbara Stabwyck) stirbt, zieht die ganze
Die Dornenvoegel - Teil1 Thorn Birds, (Part I) Barbara Stanwyck Die wohlhabend Mary Carson (Barbara Stanwyck) interessiert
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) American television journalist Katie Couric interviews author Colleen McCullough for the NBC Today Show overlooking Sydney Harbour on September 12, 2000 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Peter Carrette Archive/Getty Images)
Die Dornenvögel - Die Rückkehr (Teile 1 + 2) Thorn Birds: Missing Years Luke (Simon Westaway) und Ralph (Richard Chamberlain)
CANADA - JUNE 22: Joking that she has developed a bionic arm after signing at least 500 autographs a day during her whirlwind tour of 18 cities; The Thorn Birds author Colleen McCullough (left) seems to enjoy doing it at a session in a downtown department store yesterday. It's the third visit to Canada in a year for this chart-breaking writer. (Photo by Bob Olsen/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
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SYDNEY (AP) - Best-selling Australian author Colleen McCullough, whose novel "The Thorn Birds" sold 30 million copies worldwide, has died at age 77 after a long illness.

McCullough died Thursday in a hospital on remote Norfolk Island, HarperCollins Australia publishing director Shona Martyn said in a statement.

McCullough had continued producing books despite a string of health and eyesight problems by using dictation, Martyn said.

"Ever quick-witted and direct, we looked forward to her visits from Norfolk Island and the arrival of each new manuscript delivered in hard copy in custom-made maroon manuscript boxes inscribed with her name," Martyn said.

McCullough wrote 25 novels throughout her career. Her final book "Bittersweet" was released in 2013.

Her first novel "Tim" was published in 1974. It became a movie starring Mel Gibson, who played a young, intellectually disabled handyman who had a romance with a middle-aged woman.

Her second novel, "The Thorn Birds," published in 1977, became a U.S. television mini-series in 1983 starring Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and Christopher Plummer. The Outback melodrama about a priest's struggle between church and love won four Golden Globe awards.

During the 1980s, she wrote love stories including "An Indecent Obsession" and "The Ladies of Missalonghi."

Her historical seven-novel series "Masters of Rome" was published from 1990 to 2007.

McCullough was born in the town of Wellington in New South Wales state on June 1, 1937. The family moved to the state capital, Sydney, where she began studying at Sydney University to become a medical doctor until she discovered that she had an allergic reaction to the antiseptic soap that surgeons use to scrub.

She switched her studies to neuroscience and spent 10 years as a researcher at Yale Medical School in the United States. She established the neurophysiology department at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital.

She lived as an author in the United States and London before settling on Norfolk Island, a former British penal colony in the Pacific Ocean which became home to descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers.

In 1983 she married one of those descendants, Ric Robinson, who survives her.

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