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More sad news on 'Three Cups of Tea' with death of co-author David Oliver Relin

David Oliver Relin's family said that Relin was hurt, emotionally and financially, by the controversy over fabrications in 'Three Cups of Tea,' the book he  co-authored with Greg Mortenson.

By Husna Haq / December 3, 2012

David Oliver Relin recently finished a book – scheduled for publication this spring – about two doctors who are working to cure cataract-related blindness in the developing world.

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More sad news to report on “Three Cups of Tea": David Oliver Relin, the journalist and author who became famous as the co-author, with Greg Mortenson, of “Three Cups of Tea,” died Nov. 15 near Portland, Oregon of an apparent suicide. He was 49.

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Relin’s family said the author suffered from depression and was hurt, emotionally and financially, when controversy arose over fabrications in “Three Cups of Tea,” which recounted how former mountain climber Mortenson started building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan through his charity.

The book’s accuracy was called into question last year when a "60 Minutes program" reported on its numerous fabrications as well as financial discrepancies in Mortenson’s charity, both of which were detailed by author Jon Krakauer in his book, “Three Cups of Deceit.”

Mortenson denied wrongdoing, though he acknowledged that some of the events in the book were compressed for storytelling purposes. Relin did not respond publicly to criticism, though he did hire a lawyer to defend himself in a federal lawsuit that accused the authors and publisher of defrauding readers. The suit was dismissed earlier this year.

Ironically, the very assignment that shot Relin to fame – “Three Cups of Tea” would go on to sell 4 million copies and draw widespread support for Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute – also brought him much grief and may have led to his eventual downfall.

From the start, Relin spoke publicly about how Mortenson, who was often unreachable traveling in remote areas, should not have been named a co-author. Elizabeth Kaplan, the agent for the book, told the New York Times that the relationship between the co-authors was difficult from the start.

The legal, emotional, and financial difficulties that followed allegations of fabrications further damaged Relin, who already suffered from depression.

Relin had established himself in the 1990s as a journalist specializing in humanitarian stories about people in need. It appeared he had tried to move on from the “Three Cups” controversy; Relin had completed a new book on two doctors who are working to cure cataract-related blindness in the developing world, scheduled for publication by Random House in spring 2013.

He is survived by his wife, Dawn; his stepfather Cary Ratcliff; and his sisters Rachel Relin and Jennifer Cherelin.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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