“One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer,” Pat Conroy once said, “is to be born into an unhappy family.” By that measure alone, Conroy had ample training. In one best-selling novel after another, he drew on bitter memories, particularly of his despotic and abusive father, a Marine Corps fighter pilot.

“I always thanked Dad for giving me such intense pain as a child,” Conroy told The Washington Post in 1992, “so I could write about it the rest of my life.”

His experiences formed the emotional core of such sweeping tales as “The Great Santini,” “The Lords of Discipline,” “The Prince of Tides” and “Beach Music,” several of which were adapted into films.

Conroy died March 4 at his home in Beaufort, South Carolina at age 70. The author announced in February that he had pancreatic cancer.

His fractured family life included an Alabama-born mother with pretensions of gentility, Conroy’s struggles with depression, the stern discipline of a military education – and, of course, the looming shadow of his father.

His father’s real-life nickname, “The Great Santini,” became the title of Conroy’s breakthrough 1976 novel about a martinet who was a tyrant to his family.

“The book roared through my family like a nuclear device,” Conroy told the Florida Times-Union in 2005.

Although his mother was fearful of revealing family secrets at first, the book gave her a newfound sense of strength. When she filed for divorce, she reportedly gave a copy of “The Great Santini” to the judge as evidence of spousal abuse.

But the success of a 1979 movie adaptation helped heal family wounds. Conroy reconciled with his father, who often signed copies of his son’s book as “The Great Santini.”

With “The Prince of Tides” in 1986, Conroy reached his pinnacle of popularity. The ambitious novel attempted to recount the modern history of the country through the travails of the Wingo family, in all their epic excesses and failings.

Donald Patrick Conroy was born Oct. 26, 1945, in Atlanta and was the oldest of seven children.

A millionaire by age 35, he lived variously in Atlanta, San Francisco, Paris and Rome before returning permanently to South Carolina in 1991.

His marriages to Barbara Bolling and Lenore Gurewitz Fleischer ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife since 1998, novelist Cassandra King; one daughter from each of his first two marriages; stepchildren and brothers.