Bush Awards Presidential Medal of FreedomHarper Lee, the author of literary classic "To Kill a Mockingbird," which became an Oscar-winning film, has died. She was 89.

Lee shot to fame with the 1960 publication of her first novel, "Mockingbird," which was set in Depression-era rural Alabama and revolved around a young girl, Scout, and her virtuous lawyer father, Atticus Finch, who defended a black man falsely accused of rape. The universally beloved tale won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and in 2007, Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work.

In 1962, "Mockingbird" was turned into a hit Hollywood film, starring Gregory Peck. The flick was nominated for eight Oscars -- including Best Picture -- and went on to win three, including the Best Actor statuette for Peck.

Lee first famously submitted the "Mockingbird" manuscript back in 1957, only to have it rejected, and her publisher ask her to rewrite it. That early draft, set after the events of "Mockingbird," eventually morphed into "Go Set a Watchman," the "Mockingbird" sequel -- and Lee's only other published book -- that was finally released in July 2015, amid much controversy and decidedly mixed reviews.

Among the many factors causing concern was the book's shift of Atticus from moral compass to bitter racist, calling into question the character's legacy. Also controversial was how the novel came to be published at all, since Lee famously said she would never release another book, and stuck to that promise for many decades.

In her final years, Lee suffered a stroke and moved in with her sister, Alice, and later, into an assisted-living facility, in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Many observers wondered if Lee had the mental capacity to officially sign off on "Watchman"'s publication, or if the release was the result of Lee's lawyer, Tonja B. Carter, taking advantage of the author's poor health (and the death of Alice, who was previously in charge of Lee's estate).

For her part, Lee released several statements through her lawyer, saying she was "happy as hell" about the publication of "Watchman."

Lee's death comes just one week after Aaron Sorkin announced he would write a "Mockingbird" stage play, the first time that the novel would be adapted for Broadway. The play is set to debut next year.

[via: Entertainment Weekly]

Photo credit: Getty Images

To Kill a Mockingbird Movie Poster
To Kill a Mockingbird
1962
In Theaters on December 25, 1962

Scout Finch (Mary Badham), 6,and her older brother, Jem (Phillip Alford), live in sleepy Maycomb, Ala.,... Read More

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