Who is the ghostwriter behind Prince Harry's Spare, J R Moehringer?

Before he wrote the Duke of Sussex's autobiography, Moehringer’s own coming-of-age memoir was turned into a film starring Ben Affleck

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When it came to writing one of the most explosive autobiographies of the decade, Prince Harry turned to a respected journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner to put into words his feelings about growing up in the British royal family.

US writer and author John Joseph Moehringer, 58, who writes under his pen name of J R Moehringer, was given the responsibility of writing Harry’s 416-page memoir Spare, which comes out on Tuesday, with the pair seemingly bonding over their troubled childhoods.

Who Is J R Moehringer?

The New York native’s work has appeared in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times as well as many other US publications. He had also ghostwritten two other celebrity memoirs before embarking on Spare.

During his stint at the Los Angeles Times, in 1998, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing for his article Resurrecting the Champ about Bob “Bombardier” Satterfield, a heavyweight boxer who fought between 1945 and 1957. He would go on to win the prize in 2000 for his article Crossing Over, about segregation in Alabama.

In 2007, Resurrecting the Champ was adapted for the big screen and starred Samuel L Jackson and Josh Hartnett.

Moehringer’s celebrity fans: Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Andre Agassi

Ben Affleck stars as Uncle Charlie and Tye Sheridan as J R Moehringer in the adaptation of The Tender Bar, Moehringer's coming-of-age memoir. Photo: Amazon

The writer was sought out by tennis champion Andre Agassi to write his 2009 memoir, Open: An Autobiography, after the Grand Slam winner read Moehringer’s own autobiography and was inspired by the story of his difficult childhood.

Moehringer’s coming-of-age memoir, The Tender Bar, was published in 2005 and turned into a movie in 2022 starring X-Men: Apocalypse actor Tye Sheridan as Moehringer and Ben Affleck as his influential uncle Charlie. The film was directed by George Clooney and released on Amazon Prime on January 7 last year, with Moehringer consulting on the movie.

Moehringer told NPR in 2012 that he and Agassi "did a lot of things together. And the first thing that we did was we started a long really wonderful conversation about his life. It worked like therapy. I sat in a straight back chair and Andre sat on a couch and I had a pad in my lap and he really, he dug deep, and together we found patterns and themes in his life.”

A ghostwriter’s process: ‘You try and inhabit their skin’

J R Moehringer ghostwrote Andre Agassi's Open and Nike co-founder Phil Knight's Shoe Dog autobiographies. Photo: Harper Collins / Simon & Schuster

Moehringer has previously spoken about how he begins to get to know his subject in the ghostwriting process.

“You try and inhabit their skin, and even though you’re thinking third person, you’re writing first person, so the processes are mirror images of each other, but they seem very simpatico,” he told NPR about his process for Agassi’s Open.

About the collaboration with the tennis ace, he said: “I had the wonderful perk of being able to call him, sit down with him, every time I came to something and didn't know what it looked like or smelled like.”

The journalist also wrote the novel Sutton in 2012, a speculative fiction based on the life of one of the most notorious American bank robbers, Willie Sutton.

In 2016, he ghostwrote Shoe Dog, the autobiography of US billionaire businessman Phil Knight, who co-founded Nike.

What is a ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter writes books, screenplays, articles, speeches, songs and more which are then credited to another writer or author.

Many ghostwriters sign confidentiality agreements stating they will remain anonymous, although they may sometimes be credited as a “researcher” in the acknowledgements.

Most celebrity autobiographies are penned by ghostwriters and it has become a common practice in literature to hire writers to write in the style of famous and popular authors.

Thriller writer Tom Clancy and 007 creator Ian Fleming have both had books published under their names which were authored by ghostwriters.

British artist Damien Hirst has talked about using other artists to create some of his most famous pieces. Reuters

The practice isn’t exclusive to the literary world, as the composer Mozart used to ghostwrite music for his wealthy patrons, and artists Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst both produced works that came from their studios as opposed to directly by their hand.

“The best person who ever painted spots for me was [British artist] Rachel [Howard],” Hirst wrote in his book On the Way to Work. “She's brilliant. The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel.”

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Updated: January 10, 2023, 6:48 AM
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