David Oliver Relin, co-author with Greg Mortenson of the disputed 2006 best-seller Three Cups of Tea, committed suicide Nov. 14 in Corbett, Ore., near Portland, authorities there told the Associated Press.
Relin, who would have turned 50 next week, died of blunt force head injury, according to deputy Multnomah County medical examiner Peter Bellant.
Three Cups of Tea -- about Mortenson’s travels in Afghanistan and Pakistan to promote education for girls -- was the target of a scathing 60 Minutes piece in April 2011. The book, published in by Penguin, a division of Viking, became a sensation, especially among foreign policy experts. Mortenson established the Central Asia Institute to raise money to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He received donations from President Obama, who donated $100,000 of his Nobel Peace Prize award to Mortenson’s charity, and author Jon Krakauer, who gave $75,000.
The Central Asia Institute has raised about $60 million and asserts that it has built schools in war-torn Afghanistan and Pakistan. But in the 60 Minutes piece, Krakauer, alleged numerous fabrications including Mortenson’s account of being kidnapped in Pakistan's Waziristan region in 1996. Detractors claim that Mortenson used his charity to promote his book tours and drum up lucrative speaking engagements.
The 60 Minutes piece included clips from old interviews with Mortenson and video of his numerous speeches. Neither Mortenson nor Relin was interviewed for the piece, though CBS News correspondent Steve Kroft did track Mortenson to a book signing and speaking engagement in Atlanta, where he refused to answer Kroft’s questions. Mortenson said he needed to sign more books. His staff then contacted hotel security and had Kroft and his team removed to the lobby. A spokesperson for 60 Minutes declined comment Monday.
Mortenson denied intentional wrongdoing and called the attacks against him "unjustified," but he did acknowledge that some depictions in Three Cups of Tea were changed or compressed.
Relin did not respond publicly to the criticism.
Earlier this year, a federal judge rejected a lawsuit by four people who bought the book. Relin had hired an attorney to represent him in the suit. Mortenson has agreed to repay his charity more than $1 million.
Relin was born Dec. 12, 1962, in Rochester, N.Y. He graduated from Vassar College in 1985 and later was awarded a fellowship at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. Before co-writing Three Cups of Tea, he worked as a journalist, specializing in humanitarian stories about people in need.
His family told USA Today that he had suffered from depression.
Relin is survived by his mother, Marjorie; his wife, Dawn; his sisters Rachel Relin and Jennifer Cherelin; and his stepfather, Cary Ratcliff.