When Prince Harry decided to work with ghostwriter JR Moehringer on his institution-shaking memoir, Spare, he didn’t take half measures. The American author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist does not have a big impact, but he is known for his deep approach to topics, his preoccupation with the father-son relationship and his ability to “go deep.”
When he was working with Andre Agassi to write his celebrated 2009 memoir The Open, the tennis star said Moehringer moved to Las Vegas and bought a house a mile away, where he lived for two years. They would meet in the morning over a Whole Foods breakfast burrito, Agassi said.
Most recently, the 58-year-old worked with Nike founder Phil Knight on his memoir, Shoe Dog.
Under his own name, he wrote his 2005 memoir, The Tender Bar, which was the basis of the 2021 film starring Ben Affleck (reportedly introduced to Harry by director George Clooney), and the 2012 novel Sutton.
Agassi said he sought out Moehringer to write his memoirs—he “persuaded” him to do so after reading The Tender Bar. “It was the first autobiography I read that didn’t feel like a global press conference,” he told the New York Times.
Patrick Janson-Smith, who published a 2012 novel about American bank robber Willie Sutton, said Moehringer’s own memoirs were “remarkable” and that he was a “natural writer”.
“I think that’s what speaks to his attitude about Agassi and Harry,” Janson-Smith told Observer. “The sense of loss is something that will inform the book.”
Raised in Manhasset, a town on Long Island, New York and the backdrop of The Great Gatsby, Moehringer and his mother lived in cramped conditions with his grandparents after she separated from his father.
In 2012, he described meeting his father as a teenager. “I was too filled with longing for my father,” he told American television station NPR. “And I was too emotionally disturbed by the moment to notice any difference between the voice and the person.”
In his memoirs, he describes his toxic relationship with alcohol after he left Yale, where he was a scholar, when Steve, the owner of his favorite bar, died. “I drank to get drunk. I drank because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I drank the way Steve drank at the end, to achieve oblivion,” he wrote.
Janson-Smith thought Sutton was a “great novel”, but the public reaction was unsatisfactory. “Unfortunately, nothing happened. I don’t think it got any reviews so it was very disappointing,” said the retired publisher and chairman of London-based literary agency Greyhound Literary.
In general, however, his work has attracted the attention of critics, readers, and fellow writers.
Ghostwriter and author Daniel Paisner, who worked with tennis star Serena Williams on her 2009 memoir On the Line, said he first encountered Moehringer’s work together when he read Agassi’s memoir. “It was one of the best sports memoirs ever written,” he said.
After starting his writing career at the New York Times as a news assistant, Moehringer was later hired by the Los Angeles Times, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for writing for his article Crossing Over. He is now believed to be living in California.
Madeleine Morel, an agent who “brings together” book projects with ghostwriters, said Moehringer has come to embody the ultimate in ghostwriting.
“He’s the highlight,” she said an observer. “I’m sure everyone wants to be him. He is such a brilliant writer. It’s very difficult to ghostwrite a book and on some level it will never sound like it was written by someone else.”