28/12/2016 13:00 SAST | Updated 28/12/2016 13:07 SAST

'Watership Down' Author Richard Adams Dies At 96

His health had been deteriorating for several weeks, according to his family.

Richard Adams in 1974.
PA/PA Wire
Richard Adams in 1974.

Richard Adams, the author of the children's literary classic Watership Down, has passed away.

"Richard's much loved family announce with sadness that their dear father, grandfather, and great-grandfather passed away peacefully at 10pm on Christmas Eve," read a statement posted on the book's official website.

The novel, an epic adventure featuring anthropomorphic rabbits living in the south of England, was first published in 1972, and has since sold tens of millions of copies.

Adams didn't begin writing until late in his life. In a 2007 interview, he explained that the stories began as a distraction, "improvised off the top of my head, as we were driving along", during long car journeys with his two daughters.

The book was adapted into a successful film in 1978 by Martin Rosen.

The statement posted on Watership Down Enterprises continues:

"'It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.

"You needn't worry about them," said his companion. "They'll be alright — and thousands like them."'