David Oliver Relin, 49, co-author of the popular and controversial book Three Cups of Tea, died last month after committing suicide near his home in Portland, Oregon.
Relin, who co-authored Three Cups with its subject, Greg Mortenson, was reportedly depressed and in financial difficulty after facts in the book—an account which portrayed Mortenson as a humanitarian hero—proved to be wrong, and perhaps fabricated. The narrative, published in 2006, told the story of how Mortenson, an American mountaineer, had become lost and ill on an expedition in the Himalayas, was nursed back to health by local Pakistanis, then decided to repay his debt by building schools for local children.
The controversy evolved into legal difficulties for Mortenson and Relin because the book, an international bestseller, became a cornerstone of credibility in Mortenson's fundraising efforts for the non-profit organization he founded, the Central Asia Institute. The Institute and Mortenson eventually came under scrutiny for paying large, undocumented expenses to Mortenson, and failing to deliver on its commitments to build schools in a timely manner. After a Montana Attorney General's investigation, Mortenson ultimately agreed to repay the Institute an estimated $1 million.
Relin's role in all of this is unclear. According to reports, he and Mortenson had a falling out several years ago, and Relin regretted sharing authorship credit with Mortenson at all. And recently, Mortenson had said that inaccuracies in Three Cups were Relin's. Critics, however, point out that Mortenson, as co-author, presumably had ample opportunity to make sure the book was accurate, and that many of the central events in Mortenson's story had little factual substance.