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Author Charles Bowden, as featured on the cover of the "Charles Bowden Reader." / Arizona Republic/Handout

Charles Bowden, the author and hard-boiled investigative journalist who often wrote about the American Southwest, died Saturday in Las Cruces, N.M., where he had moved from Tucson. He was 69.

A longtime friend of Bowden's, Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, confirmed his death Sunday. Carroll said Bowden's partner, Molly Molloy, found him dead at about 5 p.m. Saturday in their New Mexico home.

Bowden had been battling a recurring illness and died in his sleep, Carroll said.

"As a young man, he had valley fever, and I think that continued to plague him as he got older," Carroll, who began a friendship with Bowden in the late 1990s, said.

1995 Charles Bowden story: The sad state of the Sea of Cortes

Longtime friends described Bowden as a profound writer and, more so, a generous one.

"What I will always remember him for, beyond his vast talent as a writer, is his generosity with younger writers, writers coming up," Valley resident and acclaimed Arizona journalist Terry Greene Sterling said. "Because he was so kind to me and generous with his time, helping me out, I try to model that with younger writers and that's, I think, the largest lesson he taught me."

He was passionate about the Sonoran Desert and politics, Carroll said.

"He was a journalist's journalist," Carroll said. "The guy drilled deep into every subject matter. Whatever Chuck Bowden did, he did with all his heart."

Writer Barry Graham, a former Phoenix resident who now lives in Portland, Ore., remembered an evening they spent together in the '90s that sums Bowden up, he said.

"He cooked dinner and it got very late; we drank copious amounts of red wine and I slept in the living room. Even though he'd drunk a lot like I had, hadn't much sleep, at 3 in the morning I heard him get up, stumble to his desk and start writing in the dark," Graham said, laughing. "That was how he managed to be so prolific."

Bowden spent more than a decade writing about the Mexican border city of Juárez, interviewing assassins and victims to illustrate the city's culture of violence. He was most proud of his ability to tell the truth, Greene Sterling said.

"He kept saying that he was proud of his ability to be a witness. He was very proud of the voices he gave to people who didn't have a voice," Graham said.

Bowden was born the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945, and moved to Tucson with his family as a young child for the health of his sister, Graham said.

His career began in American history, about which he frequently joked "he was the only person to get a Ph.D to become a redneck," Graham said. He left a position teaching history at the University in Chicago, worked in manual labor for some time, and eventually became a reporter for the defunct Tucson Citizen, which was owned by The Arizona Republic's parent company. There he spent years reporting on gruesome crimes before he moved on to other investigative journalism, Graham said.

"He would actually refer to a book or an article as a song," Graham said. "He taught me to go to some of the ugliest, darkest places in life but not to write a horror story about it. To go where most of us really don't want to go but, essentially, to sing a song about it. To capture the music of what happened."

Bowden moved to Las Cruces from the Tucson area about five years ago, but had recently visited southern Arizona and was still deeply connected to the area, Carroll said.

"The first week in August he went back to Las Cruces because he wasn't feeling well," he said.

An autopsy will be performed at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Carroll said.

Bowden had quit smoking, was lifting weights and was taking better care of himself.

"He was just trying to catch his second wind," Carroll said.

Bowden wrote influential pieces in a trademark contrarian style. His books include Murder City, Down by the River and Blues for Cannibals. He also contributed to Harper's Magazine and became an expert on the drug wars along the U.S.-Mexico border, reporting on the smuggling routes through Sasabe, Ariz., and Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

The best tribute to Bowden is one he wrote for a friend and writer, Edward Abbey, in the dedication of one of his books, Graham said.

"'R.I.P., But I Doubt It.' I don't imagine he's resting in peace and he would never want to," Graham said.

Reporter Yihyun Jeong contributed to this story.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Author, journalist Charles Bowden dies at 69

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