09/21/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
Sex? Suicide? Political chicanery? In Washington, D.C.? Back in 1959 a more innocent American public was riveted by Advise and Consent, a novel that pierced the dignified facade of government and portrayed high-level manipulations that were—then—seldom spoken of publicly. Author Allen Drury, who died of cardiac arrest on Sept. 2, his 80th birthday, went on to write 24 more books; his last, Public Men, comes out in November. But none would equal the impact of Drury's first, which topped bestseller lists for 93 weeks, earned him a Pulitzer Prize and became a Broadway play and Hollywood movie. "Drury was really the first author who wrote a contemporary no-holds-barred book about the inner workings of Washington," says Lisa Drew, his editor at Scribner. "In that sense, Advise and Consent was the first major Washington novel."
Drury, a Stanford graduate born in Houston, learned all he needed to know about Washington, D.C., during a 16-year career as a wire service and New York Times reporter covering the U.S. Senate. "He was a dependable guy whose word you could trust," says actor Don Murray, who played a senator in the movie. Fiercely private, Drury, a lifelong bachelor, continued to write daily in his Tiburon, Calif., home until illness slowed him this summer. Though he criticized the turn political novels would take—"They've gotten wilder and wilder," he once said—politics remained his passion. The U.S. Senate is "the greatest show on earth," he told an interviewer in 1995. "Always has been, always will be."