(CNN) — The acclaimed novelist Wilbur Smith has died aged 88, according to a statement from the author’s official website.

The cause of his death was not confirmed.

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“Global bestselling author Wilbur Smith died unexpectedly this afternoon at his Cape Town home after a morning of reading and writing with his wife Niso by his side,” the statement said.

Born in Zambia in 1933, Smith was the son of sheet-metal worker Herbert Smith and mother, Elfreda, according to the website.

When he was 18 months he was diagnosed with cerebral malaria, but recovered. At the age of eight he went to boarding school in South Africa, where he spent his formative years reading Ernest Hemingway.

Smith’s bout with polio at the age of 16 inspired his character Garrick Courtney, from the 17-book Courtney novel series.

With a 50 years-long profession under his belt, and 49 novels to his name, he was celebrated for his historical fiction and described as an “undisputed and inimitable master of adventure writing” by his official website.

Each one of his novels, including his 1964 debut book “When the Lion Feeds,” appeared on bestseller charts. Other well-known books include the first novel of his Ancient Egypt series “River God,” and his 2018 memoir, “On Leopard Rock.”

“I’ve had tough times, bad marriages, people I loved dearly dying in my arms, burnt the midnight oil getting nowhere, but it has, all in the end, added up to a phenomenally fulfilled and wonderful life. I want to be remembered as somebody who gave pleasure to millions,” Smith said of his memoir.

In 2013 Smith spoke to CNN’s Becky Anderson about his 2013 book Vicious Circle, which tells the story of former SAS officer Hector Cross.

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“All my characters have got a big slice of me in them,” he told CNN at the time.

He drew on his own experiences as a businessman to inform his writing, as well as his interest in nature, conservation and traveling.

In 2015, Smith and his partner Mokhiniso Rakhimova founded The Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation, which encourages readers to engage with adventure writing.

Smith married Rakhimova in May 2020, which was when he “found true happiness and peace of mind,” according to his official website.

“Wilbur Smith was an icon, larger than life, beloved by his fans who collected his books in hardbacks and passed his work down through generations, fathers to sons and mothers to daughters. His knowledge of Africa, and his imagination knew no limitations,” Smith’s literary agent Kevin Conroy Scott said.

“His work ethic and his powerful, elegant writing style made him known to millions. I cherish the role of working side by side with his wife Niso and the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation to keep the flame of his fictional universe alive for many years to come,” Scott added.

Kate Parkin, from Smith’s publisher Bonnier Books UK, said: “It is with deep sadness that we mourn the death of our beloved author Wilbur Smith whose seemingly inexhaustible creative energy and passion for storytelling will long live on in the hearts and minds of readers everywhere.

“Wilbur never lost his appetite for writing and remained working every day of his life. He leaves behind him a treasure-trove of novels, as well as completed and yet to be published co-authored books and outlines for future stories,” Parkin added.

“It has been a privilege and an honour to work closely with him on this remarkable publishing legacy and we look forward to sharing them with his millions of fans worldwide in years to come,” Parkin said.

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