WASHINGTON : US author Tom Clancy, whose spy and military thrillers became worldwide best-sellers and inspired several Hollywood hit films, has died, his New York publisher said Wednesday. He was 66.

His more than 25 fiction and non-fiction books included his 1984 novel “The Hunt for Red October” as well as “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger.”

“He was a consummate author, creating the modern-day thriller, and was one of the most visionary storytellers of our time,” said Penguin Group executive David Shanks in a statement. “I will miss him dearly and he will be missed by tens of millions of readers worldwide,” added Shanks, who was involved in the publication of all of Clancy’s works. The Baltimore Sun newspaper said Clancy, a Maryland native, died Tuesday “after a brief illness” at the city’s Johns Hopkins hospital.

Clancy set his novels in the context of the Cold War and its aftermath, focusing on espionage and military science with rich attention to technical detail.

“The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense,” he once said.

Ivan Held, president of Penguin imprint Putnam’s, said that publishing a Clancy book was “a thrill every time.”

“He was ahead of the news curve and sometimes frighteningly prescient,” Held said.

Beyond the realm of books, Clancy licensed his name to a series of successful video games such as the hugely popular “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell” franchise released by French company Ubisoft.

“Tom Clancy was an extraordinary author with a gift for creating detailed, engrossing fictional stories that captivated audiences around the world,” said Ubisoft on its Facebook page.

An avowed Republican, Clancy was also a co-owner of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

Clancy was an insurance salesman when he sent “The Hunt for Red October” to Deborah Grosvenor, an editor at Naval Institute Press who is credited with discovering him.

The small publishing house was expanding into nautical-themed fiction, so its gripping tale about the pursuit of a top-secret Soviet submarine made a good fit.

It introduced Jack Ryan as one of Clancy’s enduring characters, a CIA analyst with a military background who specialized in covert operations against the Soviet Union and, in later books, ventured into Washington politics.

The success of “The Hunt for Red October” - more than five million copies sold - was helped in no small part by then-president Ronald Reagan, who praised it as “the perfect yarn.”

Seventeen of Clancy’s books topped the New York Times best-seller lists. His latest work “Command Authority” was due to be published in December, just in time for Christmas gift-giving.

Sometimes his story lines could be eerily prophetic: “Debt of Honor” from 1994 featured a Japanese kamikaze attack on the US Capitol using a Boeing 747 airliner.

“I never got any fan mail from Osama bin Laden and I don’t really know how many books I sold in Afghanistan,” Clancy told CNN in 2003, two years after Al-Qaeda hijackers flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but failed to strike the Capitol.

With his name in large print on the cover, Clancy’s books were unmissable at airport bookshops. For many of his fans, reading them was an essential summer-vacation ritual.

“When I was a kid no beach vacation with my dad was complete without his cooler of Carolina Blonde (beer) and a beat-up Clancy paperback,” wrote a Reddit user with the moniker 1mfa0. “I loved his Cold War stuff, such awesome thrillers.”

On the big screen, Jack Ryan has been portrayed by the likes of Alec Baldwin in “The Hunt for Red October,” Harrison Ford in “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger” and Ben Affleck in “The Sum of All Fears.”

“Shadow One,” the first Jack Ryan film with a script not directly adapted from a Clancy novel, is due for Christmas release. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, it stars Chris Pine as the daring CIA analyst lifting the lid on a Russian plot to wreck the US economy through terrorism.