John le Carre, the British writer best known for his Cold War espionage novels “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold”, has died aged 89, his agent and family said Sunday.

The author, a former British intelligence officer whose real name was David Cornwell, wrote 25 novels and one memoir in a career spanning six decades, selling 60 million books worldwide.

His wife of nearly 50 years, Jane, and sons Nicholas, Timothy, Stephen and Simon, said in a statement that he died on Saturday night after a short battle with pneumonia.

“We all grieve deeply his passing,” they said, thanking staff at the hospital in Cornwall, southwest England, for their care. “We know they share our sadness,” they added.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” was adapted for television in 1979, with Alec Guinness starring as the enigmatic spycatcher George Smiley, and became a classic. Gary Oldman reprised the role in the 2011 film, winning an Oscar the following year.

“All who follow are in his debt,” Oldman said in a statement. “His characters were drawn deftly and deeply… For me, inhabiting George Smiley remains one of the highpoints of my life.”

His friend, the novelist Robert Harris, called le Carre “one of those writers who really was not only a brilliant writer but he also penetrated popular culture — and that’s a great rarity”.

Harris told Sky News television “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” was a “masterpiece”.

“It’s an incredibly engrossing tale and very deep, and it transformed the writing of spy fiction. It was a brilliant, psychological portrait of spying and of betrayal and of the decline of British power.”

Stephen King, the best-selling US author, called le Carre “a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit”.

Jonny Geller, le Carre’s literary agent, said: “His like will never be seen again, and his loss will be felt by every book lover, everyone interested in the human condition.”

And historian Simon Sebag Montefiore said he was heartbroken at the death of a “titan of English literature”.

AFP