Alabama-born author, after graduation from the University of North Carolina and an M.D. from Columbia gave up medicine because of ill health and began a literary career. His first novel, The Moviegoer (1961, National Book Award), deals with an alienated young stockbroker of New Orleans, addicted to the movies, who during Mardi Gras finally finds his own involvement in life through a compassionate relationship with a woman who has suffered a personal tragedy. The Last Gentleman (1966) presents another existential character, a courtly young Southerner resident in New York, where he suffers amnesia but finally returns to his own region in quest of himself.
Love in the Ruins (1971) is a fanciful satire about Dr. Thomas More, a scientist and “bad Catholic” who attempts to redeem the mechanistic culture of the U.S. Lancelot (1977) is a more melodramatic and moralistic story about a New Orleans man's murder of his wife's lover. The Second Coming (1980) reintroduces the protagonist of The Last Gentleman, now a rich, lonely widower of 50, restored to hope by affection for a troubled young girl. The Message in the Bottle (1975) contains essays on the philosophy of language, and Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (1983) contains essays and other non-fiction. The orphaned author was reared by an older cousin, William Alexander Percy (1885–1942), a Mississippi poet, whose Lanterns on the Levee (1941) is a lyrical autobiography of a Southern gentleman.