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 Sunday. He was 49.
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 finance his defense.