Skip to main content

Tributes paid to 'born writer' Paul Sussman

By Peter Wilkinson, CNN
updated 12:03 AM EDT, Wed June 6, 2012
Paul Sussman, wearing sunglasses, spent four years exploring the central part of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
Paul Sussman, wearing sunglasses, spent four years exploring the central part of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Author, archaeologist and former CNN journalist Paul Sussman has died suddenly
  • Londoner Sussman had just completed the fourth in a series of novels
  • His books had been translated into 33 languages and sold two million copies
  • Alongside his journalism, Sussman also worked extensively as field archaeologist

London (CNN) -- Family, friends, colleagues and fans have been paying tribute to the author, archaeologist and former CNN journalist Paul Sussman, who has died suddenly.

Sussman, who lived in London with his wife Alicky and their two children, Jude and Ezra, had just completed the fourth in a series of novels, based around the exploits of a gritty detective from Cairo, which had been translated into 33 languages and sold two million copies.

On his Facebook page he described his feelings over its forthcoming publication: "First proof copy of 'Labyrinth of Osiris' arrived with the postman this morning. Curiously I am more excited about this one than any of my previous novels!"

His wife, a documentary maker, on Sunday announced Sussman's death from a ruptured aneurysm, adding: "He was a truly unique person - a brilliant Dad and adored husband. We will all miss him so, so much xxx."

Sussman, who was born in 1968, lived an extraordinary life, as he was the first to admit. "With a father who sold ladies' underwear for a living, and an actress-turned-psychoanalyst for a mother, I suspect my life was never destined to follow a wholly conventional path."

On his website he described how after graduating with a history degree from Cambridge University which he represented at boxing, he almost entered Britain's MI6 spy service, then worked as a gravedigger in France, sold cigars in Harrod's and toured Europe acting as Aunt Sponge in a "ground-breakingly execrable production of 'James and the Giant Peach.'"

On his return to London, Sussman worked in the advertising department of the Big Issue, a magazine and charity founded to help homeless people. Soon he was lobbying the magazine's founder and editor-in-chief John Bird to work as a writer.

"Paul wrote some stuff for us, and it was spell-binding," Bird told CNN. "I don't remember anyone doing it like he did. He was just a born writer.

He had an electric sense of humor and seemed to be here to tell funny stories
Big Issue founder John Bird

"The Big Issue was floundering during its first year, and it was only when people like Paul came along in 1992 that we got a reputation for good journalism. He could just do anything."

Bird recalled how Sussman's quick wit and warmth relieved the serious atmosphere at the magazine. "My world was full of earnest people so to meet Paul was so refreshing," he said. "He had an electric sense of humor and seemed to be here to tell funny stories. He also had a surprising calm: he seemed supremely confident of his abilities, but never bragged or boasted."

Sussman was always up for a challenge. When Big Issue colleagues pointed out his physical resemblance to Princess Diana's boyfriend Dodi Fayed, he agreed to be photographed for a feature in which he posed in character around London. Unfortunately, the magazine appeared on the streets the day after the death of Diana and Dodi in a car crash. Colleagues Simon Rogers and Xan Brooks remembered fondly that "the Monday was taken up with staff frantically sticking apologies into every single copy of the magazine."

Sussman later worked for other publications including CNN.com, where he wrote features as well as vivid reportage. In 2001 he covered the chaotic funeral of Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini in Jerusalem's Old City when Israeli troops fired tear gas at a group of Palestinian youths. "At one point I tried to take a picture of a young boy attacking a camera," Sussman wrote. "Immediately I was surrounded by a crowd of teenagers shouting 'No Photo!' One raised his fist at me and shouted 'I Hamas! You understand!'

"As soon as I explained I was English, however, and not an Israeli, their anger dissipated. The one who had raised his fist at me apologized meekly."

CNN.com International's vice president, Nick Wrenn, described how Sussman's enthusiasm inspired his colleagues. "Paul was a terrific person to work with. As well as being an outstanding journalist, he was always cheerful, always helpful.

"His natural enthusiasm lifted our spirits. He made us laugh, he made us think and he cared about people. Paul was also the master of playing down his own achievements, be it his boxing exploits, his archaeological knowledge or the fact that he became a very successful author. If you congratulated him, he'd say thanks, smile, shrug and ask about you instead."

Alongside his journalism, Sussman also worked extensively as a field archaeologist, particularly in Egypt where he took part in the first expedition to dig new ground in the Valley of the Kings since the discovery of Tutankhamun in 1922.

Sussman described how he had "the dubious honor of having discovered the only items of pharaonic jewellery to have been found in the Valley since Tut."

His archaeological knowledge, along with his unique way with words inevitably led to him writing his best-selling novels, and he was proud to be described by the Independent newspaper as "the intelligent reader's answer to 'The Da Vinci Code.'" Despite his success he remained down-to-earth and accessible though.

Franki Popescu was just one of many fans who posted tributes on Sussman's Facebook page: "Paul was an amazing author as everyone has already said. he always took time to respond to his fans often with a wicked sense of humour! he will be sorely missed both my husband and i thoroughly enjoyed his books and send our deepest condolences."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT