Stephen King and Robert Harris have paid tribute to 'literary giant' John le Carré who has died aged 89 following a short illness. 

A statement shared on behalf of the author's family said: "It is with great sadness that we must confirm that David Cornwell - John le Carré - passed away from pneumonia last Saturday night after a short battle with the illness.

"David is survived by his beloved wife of almost 50 years, Jane, and his sons Nicholas, Timothy, Stephen and Simon.

"We all grieve deeply his passing. Our thanks go to the wonderful NHS team at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro for the care and compassion that he was shown throughout his stay. We know they share our sadness."

Many of Cornwell's books were made into films, including the The Constant Gardener and The Spy Who Came in From The Cold, which was filmed in Ireland in 1965. 

Other films included The Tailor Of Panama, filmed in 2001 starring Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush and Jamie Lee Curtis; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, filmed in 2011 starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth and The Night Manager.

Fellow authors Robert Harris and Stephen King were among those to pay tribute.

Harris told Sky News: "I think he will be one of those writers who will be read a century from now, long after a lot of the rest of us I'm afraid are forgotten. He was a giant.

"He’s one of those writers who… also penetrated popular culture. That’s a great rarity and I’m not sure we’ll see the like of him again."

King tweeted: "John le Carre has passed at the age of 89. This terrible year has claimed a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit."

Cornwell's literary agent Jonny Geller, of Curtis Brown, said in a statement: "His like will never be seen again, and his loss will be felt by every book lover, everyone interested in the human condition.

"We have lost a great figure of English literature, a man of great wit, kindness, humour and intelligence.

"I have lost a friend, a mentor and an inspiration."

Gary Oldman, who starred in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, wrote, "For me, John le Carré was many things. He was of course a very great author, the true 'owner' of the serious, adult, complicated, spy novel – he actually owned the genre… He was generous with his creativity and always a true gentleman."

Margaret Atwood told her Twitter followers that,  "His Smiley novels are key to understanding the mid-20th century..." while Stephen Fry said, "if there is a contemporary writer who's given me richer pleasure I can't for the moment name them."

US comedian and talk show host Seth Meyers posted a tribute calling Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy the "gold standard for espionage fiction".

Actor Michael McKean, who starred in the film adaptation of The Night Manager, said le Carré's life was "unparalleled".

Cornwell drew on his experience working for the British intelligence services including MI6 during the Cold War in his writing, but later in life said he was irked at the extent to which his fiction was portrayed as representing real-world spying.

His most well-known character was the career intelligence officer George Smiley – made even more famous by Alec Guinness in the TV series of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Born in 1931, Cornwell was first educated at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, where he studied German.

He studied further at Oxford before teaching at Eton, then embarking on his undercover intelligence career, in the guise of a junior diplomat at the British embassy at Bonn, in western Germany.

His first thriller, Call For The Dead, was published pseudonymously in 1961.

Two years later, the publication of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, a story about an assignment to confront East German Intelligence, brought him worldwide acclaim, and he left the service to pursue writing full time.

Cornwell said his manuscript was approved by the secret service because they "rightly if reluctantly" concluded it was "sheer fiction from start to finish" and posed no security risk.

But he said the world's press took a different view, deciding the book was "not merely authentic but some kind of revelatory Message From The Other Side".

Cornwell, who turned down literary honours and a knighthood, said in 2017 that he was "so suspicious of the literary world that I don’t want its accolades", adding: "and least of all do I want to be called Commander of the British Empire or any other thing of the British Empire, I find it emetic."

He told 60 Minutes: "I don’t want to posture as someone who’s been honoured by the state and must therefore somehow conform with the state, and I don’t want to wear the armour."

Asked if he considered himself an Englishman, he added: "Yes, of course, I’m born and bred English, I’m English to the core. 

"My England would be the one that recognises its place in the EU. The jingoistic England that is trying to march us out of the EU, that is an England I don’t want to know."