SYDNEY, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Australian author Colleen McCullough, whose 1977 best-selling novel The Thorn Birds became a smash hit television miniseries, has died at the age of 77.
McCullough turned to writing after working for more than a decade as a neuroscientist in Australia, Britain and the United States and scored almost immediate success with The Thorn Birds, a family drama set on a sheep station in the Australian outback.
The paperback rights for The Thorn Birds sold for a then record $1.9 million and was made into one of the most watched miniseries of all time, starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward. The book sold 30 million copies worldwide.
McCullough died in hospital on Norfolk Island on Thursday after a string of health problems, publisher HarperCollins Australia said in a statement.
McCullough had lived on the island, a territory of Australia in the South Pacific, for most of the past 40 years after marrying a local resident, Ric Robinson. The most recent of her 25 works, Bittersweet, was published in 2013.
"Colleen McCullough's contribution to Australian writing - and to readers around the world - has been immense. She was one of the first Australian writers to succeed on the world stage," HarperCollins Australia Publishing Director Shona Martyn said.
"Ever quick-witted and direct, we looked forward to her visits from Norfolk Island and to the arrival of each new manuscript delivered in hard copy in custom-made maroon manuscript boxes inscribed with her name! We will miss her dearly." (Reporting by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Nick Macfie)