Is your surname Harris?

Research the Harris family

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

William Thomas Harris, III

Birthplace: Jackson, Madison County, Tennessee, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of William Thomas Harris, Jr. and Polly Coleman Harris

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Thomas Harris

William Thomas Harris III (born September 22, 1940) is an American writer, best known for a series of suspense novels about his most famous character, Hannibal Lecter. The majority of his works have been adapted into films and television, the most notable being The Silence of the Lambs, which became only the third film in Academy Awards history to sweep the Oscars in major categories.



The author of The Silence of the Lambs and other novels of suspense, William Thomas Harris III was born in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1940. When he was a young boy, he and his parents, William and Polly, moved to a farm in his father’s hometown, Rich, Mississippi. Harris attended Clarksdale High School, where his mother taught biology. Harris exhibited a love of books at an early age and spent much of his time reading. Ernest Hemingway was one of his favorite authors.

Harris earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, in 1964, while working at night as a police reporter for the Waco Tribune-Herald. Though he found the job uninspiring, the experience and insight he gained into police work served him well in his later writings. While at Baylor, Harris wrote and submitted dark, meticulously crafted short stories to publications such as True and Argosy.

In 1968 Harris took a job with the Associated Press in New York, working as a crime reporter and editor and learning about police procedure in homicide investigations. Harris was intrigued by criminal psychology and forensic pathology, interests that added great depth to his fiction, enriching his characterizations and enabling him to take dark suspense in a new direction.

Harris and co-workers Sam Maull and Dick Riley created the idea for a novel about a group of Arab terrorists who conspired with a disturbed Vietnam veteran to commandeer the Goodyear Blimp and use it to bomb the Super Bowl. Black Sunday was published in 1975, becoming a best seller and a successful movie and enabling Harris to begin writing full time.

Harris spent eighteen months in 1979–80 living in his hometown, where he wrote Red Dragon (1981), the novel that introduced to readers his most famous character, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Two film adaptations were made from this novel, Man Hunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002).

Excitement surrounding the character of Lecter set the stage for a second novel with the psychotic doctor as one of the principal characters. The Silence of the Lambs (1988) is considered a masterpiece of dark suspense. The novel redefined the serial killer story, profoundly influencing the horror and thriller genres and winning several awards. The 1991 film adaptation, directed by Jonathan Demme, swept the Academy Awards, taking the top five honors: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Motion Picture.

The third novel in the Lecter series, Hannibal (1999), allows readers a glimpse into Lecter’s childhood and the trauma that profoundly shaped his life and psyche. Despite mixed reviews, the novel was a success. The 2001 movie version, however, disappointed many readers. Director Ridley Scott not only changed the ending but also sacrificed suspense by focusing only on the grisly aspects of the story.

In 2006 Harris published Hannibal Rising, which chronicles Lecter’s early life. The 2007 film version, with a screenplay written by Harris, garnered generally negative reviews.

In 2006 Harris received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association. Between 2012 and 2015, NBC aired Hannibal, a television series featuring one of Harris’s most famous characters.

Harris eschews publicity and lives in Florida and New York.


Thomas Harris was born in 1940 in Jackson, Mississippi, USA. He was raised in the town of Rich where his father worked as a farmer. He earned his bachelor's degree in English from Baylor University in Texas in 1964. While attending school, he also worked for the local newspaper.

After graduating, Harris traveled Europe for a time. Back in the USA, he worked for the Associated Press out of New York. Not coincidentally, his duties for the press included covering murders and other crimes. This helped fuel his imagination in the fictional world, and he began to write macabre stories for magazines that began to show his attention for detail that would make his subsequent novels so popular.

In 1975, he wrote his first novel, Black Sunday, about a diabolical plot to kill thousands with a blimp during the Superbowl. Perhaps ahead of his time, the terrorism of 11 September, 2001, led to many stadiums being turned into no-fly zones due to fears of a similar attack. The book was turned into a film -- Black Sunday (1977) -- a very short two years after being published. Following its success, he devoted his career entirely to fictional novelization.

In 1981, Harris wrote his first book in the Hannibal Lecter trilogy, Red Dragon. Though the character of Lecter did not become famous (or infamous, as the case may be) for another decade, the book did spark a loosely-based movie, Manhunter (1986), which was quickly dismissed at first, grossing back only about half its cost. Then, in 1988, Harris wrote another novel about the character Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs. This time, he gave the character more of a presence, although he still did not dominate the book. When this was turned into a film three years later as The Silence of the Lambs (1991), it became an instant hit and swept the "Big 5" at the Academy Awards, becoming only the third movie to do so.

After the success of The Silence of the Lambs in both movie and book form, there became a growing demand among fans - and film producer Dino De Laurentiis -- for there to be another chapter in the Hannibal Lector series. It took 11 years between novels, but Harris finally delivered again in 1999 with the best-selling novel Hannibal. It was made into a film two years later in Hannibal (2001) and, although dismissed by some critics and fans for straying from the book in parts (as well as Jodie Foster's non-appearance as Agent Clarisse Starling), it set opening records in box office sales for an R-rated film.

Because of the large box office take and the fact that Anthony Hopkins, who won an Oscar for his role in the second Lecter film, did not play Lecter in Manhunter (1986), De Laurentis and Harris came to terms to make a second version of the first book, this time properly titled Red Dragon (2002). This film version was more in keeping with the book than the first film was.

Unable to escape from being known as the man who created Lecter, Harris again agreed to make not only another novel on the character, but to write the material for the film adaption as well. The current working title is Behind the Mask. As of 2005, Harris resides in Miami, Florida, and Sag Harbor, New York, USA.


While Harris was in Italy researching his novel "Hannibal," he attended the trial of the serial killer known as the 'Monster of Florence'.

Though most of the characters in the Hannibal Lecter novels are American, quite a few of them have been played by British actors. Hannibal Lecter was revealed in Hannibal to have been Lithuanian, but spent most of his life in Maryland. The first actor to play him, Brian Cox, is Scottish, while Anthony Hopkins is Welsh. Reba McClain, the love interest of Francis Dollarhyde in Red Dragon (2002), was originally played by Joan Allen in Manhunter (1986), but she was succeeded in Red Dragon (2002) by Emily Watson. Likewise, Tom Noonan, who played Dollarhyde, was succeeded by Ralph Fiennes. The villain in Hannibal (2001), Mason Verger, was played by Gary Oldman.

All of his novels have been adapted into films. Black Sunday (1977) is the only one that does not feature the character Hannibal Lecter. Manhunter (1986) is the only one that does not retain the novel's original title.

Three of the actors who play his characters in the Hannibal Lecter films effectively reverse the roles that they played in earlier films. Anthony Hopkins was cast as Lecter to be the polar opposite of Dr. Treves from The Elephant Man (1980). Jodie Foster went from captive in Taxi Driver (1976) to rescuer in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Harvey Keitel went from playing Foster's pimp in Taxi Driver (1976) to playing her (future) mentor in Red Dragon (2002).

Began his writing career covering crime in the United States of America and Mexico.

Was a reporter and editor for the Associated Press in New York City.

He has not given an interview since 1976.

He has not watched Anthony Hopkins' iconic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter as he does not want his writing to be influenced by any one portrayal.

He was very close to his mother and used to call her every night until her death in 2011.

Fellow novelist Stephen King has remarked that if writing is sometimes tedious for other authors, to Harris it is like "writhing on the floor in agonies of frustration", because, for Harris, "the very act of writing is a kind of torment".

Lives in South Florida and has a home in Sag Harbor, New York.

Although he is known for writing dark and disturbing horror stories, he is known to friends and publishers as an extremely friendly, outgoing and polite person.

Hannibal Lecter has been played by three actors: Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins, and Mads Mikkelsen. All three actors have also appeared in a Marvel Comics adaptation that makes reference to Lecter. Cox appeared in X2: X-Men United (2003), in which Magneto's escape is modeled after Lecter's escape in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Hopkins appeared in Thor (2011), as the adopted father of Loki. In The Avengers (2012), Loki's interactions with Black Widow from the confines of a glass cage mirror the interactions between Lecter and Clarice Starling. Madsen appeared in Doctor Strange (2016), in which he is at one point restrained with a face mask resembling Lecter's.

view all

Thomas Harris's Timeline

September 22, 1940
Jackson, Madison County, Tennessee, United States