Three Cups of Tea Co-Author Commits Suicide

By Beacon Staff

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — David Oliver Relin, co-author of the best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea,” said in legal filings about a year before his recent suicide that his career suffered from allegations of lies in the story of a humanitarian who built schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Relin killed himself in the rural community of Corbett near Portland last month, according to the deputy Multnomah County medical examiner, Peter Bellant, who confirmed the death on Sunday. He was 49.

Relin died of a blunt force head injury on Nov. 14, Bellant said. Neither he nor Relin’s family would provide details of his death.

His body was found along railroad tracks running along the Columbia River where a rural road passes over the tracks and Interstate 84, said Multnomah County sheriff’s Lt. Derrick Peterson. Detectives weren’t releasing further details until they viewed a surveillance video, Peterson said.

The book, which has sold about 4 million copies since being published in 2006, describes how Greg Mortenson, the other co-author, resolved to build schools for Pakistani villagers who nursed him to health after a failed mountaineering expedition.

Relin “understood the potential importance of that story — that it could show that building schools was an antidote to just dropping bombs on that part of the world,” said Lee Kravitz, who introduced Relin and Mortenson.

“Three Cups of Tea” was conceived as a way to raise money for and tell the story of Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, which he co-founded in 1996 to build schools in Central Asia.

Relin interviewed Mortenson, attended several of his lectures and read previous articles before preparing a book proposal that was bought by Penguin Group. Relin then conducted more interviews with Mortenson and others before writing the manuscript.

The account came under scrutiny last year when “60 Minutes” and writer Jon Krakauer said it contained numerous falsehoods.

Mortenson denied any wrongdoing, though he has acknowledged some of the events were compressed over different periods of time.

In April, a U.S. district judge rejected a lawsuit by four people who bought “Three Cups of Tea,” dismissing claims that the authors, the publisher, and a charity associated with the book conspired to make Mortenson into a false hero to make money.

The lawsuit “had a negative impact on Relin’s livelihood as an author,” his attorney said in an August 2011 court filing.

Relin didn’t maintain any insurance and had to personally fund his defense.

In an introduction that Relin wrote for “Three Cups of Tea,” he acknowledged potential inaccuracies, wrote attorney Sonia Montalbano in another filing. Mortenson’s “fluid sense of time made pinning down the exact sequence of many events in this book almost impossible,” she wrote

Relin was not involved in a separate investigation by the Montana attorney general into how Mortenson ran the charity, which led to a settlement in April that called for Mortenson to reimburse the charity nearly $1 million.

Conflict between the co-authors was evidenced in a 2008 interview with the University of Oregon literary journal Etude.

Relin said he had objected to Mortenson being identified as co-author.

“That’s been the only negative thing about this whole adventure for me,” Relin said.

“It was published that way over my objections,” he added.

Mortenson did not respond to phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The publisher released a statement saying, “All of us at Penguin are saddened to hear of the death of David Oliver Relin. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family.”

Relin’s second book, “Second Suns, Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives,” was scheduled to be published in June.

Relin was born in Rochester, N.Y. He is survived by his wife, two sisters, and his mother.

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