She penned the 'Thorn Birds;' Colleen McCullough dead at 77

Story highlights

  • McCullough was a neuroscientist by training
  • She wrote many novels about complex human relationships

(CNN)The Australian author of the best-selling novel "The Thorn Birds" has died.

"It is with great sadness that HarperCollins Books Australia advise(s) that the iconic and much-loved author, Colleen McCullough, passed away on Thursday in hospital on Norfolk Island, aged 77," the publisher posted on Facebook.
Her 1977 novel "The Thorn Birds," which sold 30 million copies worldwide, was made in to a TV miniseries in 1983, starring Richard Chamberlain, Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Simmons and Christopher Plummer.
    The generation spanning novel is set in the Australian outback. "A priest torn between his calling and the lure of a rancher's daughter in this sumptuous epic...resulted in the second highest rated miniseries ever after Roots," according to TV Guide.
    At the time, the book's paperback rights sold for a record setting price of $1.9 million.
    McCullough was born in Australia, but lived and studied abroad for many years. She was a neurophysiologist and worked at hospitals in Australia and Britain, and for 10 years at Yale Medical School in New Haven, Connecticut.
    Aside from "The Thorn Birds," McCullough wrote more than ten other novels including the historical series "The Masters of Rome." Her most recent novel, "Bittersweet," was published in 2013.
    She was also featured on an Australian Post postage stamp. "She was one of the first Australian writers to succeed on the world stage," according to HarperCollins Books Australia.
    "It is very sad to lose Colleen McCullough. Her contribution to storytelling is the stuff of legend, she will be greatly missed," Random House Books Australia tweeted.