Thomas Steinbeck, the eldest of writer John Steinbeck’s two sons by his second marriage, to Gwyndolyn Conger, died on Thursday at his home in Santa Barbara. His wife, Gail Knight Steinbeck, said his death at age 72 was caused by obstructive pulmonary disease.
Thomas Steinbeck was author of the short-story collection Down to the Soundless Sea, published when he was 60. In a 2012 interview, he told The Santa Barbara Independent that his first book was accidental. Written for Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn, it contained stories he’d grown up hearing about the area and was only published after an agent saw it. Steinbeck went on to publish two other books, but may be best known for the legal wranglings over his father’s legacy. John Steinbeck left his works to his third wife, Elaine, who, in turn, left them to her family members rather than Steinbeck’s. Thomas and his niece, Blake Smyle, filed suit to recover the copyrights, but lost in a federal appeals court.
Steinbeck attended Chouinard Art Institute and UCLA and was a helicopter door-gunner during the Vietnam War, according to his website. He was an artist as well as a writer, and he crewed on documentary, film, and television projects, and wrote scripts, including adaptations of several of his father’s stories. In Santa Barbara, he is remembered for giving his time to speak with school classes about his father, a Nobel laureate, and his works.