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`Godfather' of literature dies

MARIO PUZO, the writer whose Mafia-theme gifts to American literature and to Hollywood included The Godfather, died of heart failure at his home in Long Island, New York, last night. His latest book, Omerta - Sicilian for code of silence - is due to be published next year. He was 78.

Puzo won Oscars for his screenplays for both The Godfather and its equally successful sequel, The Godfather Part II. He wrote a trilogy of "Godfather" books portraying the Corleone family that were among the biggest bestsellers in history. The first book sold 21 million copies.

His death casts doubt on a fourth instalment of the epic, which he was planning with the director Francis Ford Coppola. Leonardo DiCaprio and Andy Garcia have been lined up to star in the Paramount film.

Puzo is also credited with persuading Paramount to cast Marlon Brando in the title role, which revived Brando's fame. He wrote to Paramount saying, "Brando's the guy". He recalled: "They all said no." Then Ford Coppola joined the film.

The son of illiterate Italian immigrants who settled in Manhattan, Puzo first achieved recognition with The Fortunate Pilgrim (1964), which he always considered to be his best work. Of the first "Godfather", he once lamented: "I wrote below my gifts."

Puzo always denied he had ever had any links to the Mafia.

Of his forthcoming book, his editor at Random House, Jon Karp, said last night: "It is vintage Puzo. He was a virtuoso storyteller right to the end."