DETROIT - Jeffrey Zaslow, the West Bloomfield, Mich.-based author who wrote best-sellers such as "The Last Lecture," about a professor dying of pancreatic cancer, and a recent book on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' recovery from a gunshot wound to the head, was killed Friday in a car accident in northern Michigan.
Zaslow, 53, was a Philadelphia native and married to WJBK Detroit TV news anchor Sherry Margolis since 1987. He was the father of three daughters.
WJBK confirmed Zaslow's death late Friday afternoon.
Zaslow was killed about 9 a.m. in an auto accident in northern Michigan, near Elmira, according to the Antrim County Sheriff's Department. Police said Zaslow lost control of his car and was hit by a tractor-trailer on a snow-covered road. He had been in Petoskey for a book signing.
Outgoing and equally self-deprecating, Zaslow had a knack for ferreting out details that riveted readers. He wrote books that inspired millions, unleashing the insight of Randy Pausch, the computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University whose lecture about dying from pancreatic cancer and achieving childhood fantasies became "The Last Lecture" in 2008. Another book, "The Girls from Ames," about 11 childhood friends in Iowa and their bonds while growing up, also became a best-seller.
Zaslow also profiled Capt. Chesley ``Sully'' Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who in 2009 successfully landed a distressed airliner full of passengers on the Hudson River in New York in " Highest Duty.''
Last year, he also documented the saga of Giffords, an Arizona congresswoman, as she recovered from a bullet wound to the brain after an attack that left six others dead. Along with Giffords' husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, Zaslow co-authored "Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope."
He first shot to notoriety when, as a Wall Street Journal reporter writing about a national contest to replace Ann Landers, ended up winning the contest to succeed her at the Chicago Sun-Times.
He was most recently writing a column about relationships for The Wall Street Journal out of its Detroit office.
His latest book, "The Magic Room," chronicled the happenings at Becker's Bridal in Fowler, Mich., near Lansing, a store with nearly 2,500 dresses, owned and operated by fourth-generation bridal shop owner Sherry Becker Mueller.
He followed eight brides - including one who had her first kiss the day she became engaged, and a widow who found love again - from the bridal store to the altar. And he chronicled the ups and downs of the store owner, whose own marriage failed.
"We developed such a great friendship. It's like he's a best friend, a big brother," said Becker Mueller. "I think the world lost one of the greatest people I know. I'm so sad for his wife and his daughters."
Becker Mueller had joined Zaslow at the book signing Thursday night in Petoskey, and they were supposed to have breakfast Friday morning. But Zaslow called her and said "he was nervous about the roads and wanted to leave so he could be home when his daughter got out of school."
She described the effect Zaslow had on an audience.
"He was always heartfelt, and he's always pulling people in. He would draw them in with his passion and compassion," she said.
Zaslow said the love he had for his daughters - Jordan, 22, Alex, 20, and Eden, 16 - was the inspiration for "The Magic Room."
In an interview televised last week with WJBK, Zaslow described why he wrote "The Magic Room."
"One bride, she went in there. She tried on a dress. She looked great, then she left the store, and 12 hours later, she was in a car accident. She lost fingers on one hand. Her fiance stood by her," Zaslow said.
"Just to chronicle those kind of stories was very moving to me. And I realized from being in that store, my job as a father is not to tell my daughters what dress to wear, not to tell them what to do. My job is to tell my girls I love them. And Sherry, that I love her, too, obviously."
He said he learned from Pausch to enjoy more moments with his daughters. When "The Last Lecture" came out, Zaslow said he would email Pausch with links to stories about him popping up on the web.
Zaslow said Pausch emailed him back: "Will you stop Googling my name and go hug your kids? "
"And when I hug my kids now, what a gift it is to be able to do that. And that's sort of the story I'm telling in this book," said Zaslow, "which is we've got to hug our kids and make the most of each moment, because you never know."