McClane's character is based on the fictional Detective John Leland from Roderick Thorp's novel Nothing Lasts Forever and Frank Malone from Walter Wager's novel 58 Minutes (the plot is adapted into Die Hard 2).
In the fourth Die Hard movie, the chief antagonist Thomas Gabriel declares that on John's tombstone it will say "Always at the wrong place at the wrong time". This is perhaps an accurate description of John's vigilante career because unlike many protagonists in other action franchise, John embarks on his death-daring, defiant adventures not from his own intention. These incidents repeatedly causes friction in his relationship with his family, to the point which his own wife no longer wants to live with him (although she never filed divorce) and his daughter using her mother's maiden name instead of his surname.
In the third movie, aside from being a chain smoker John is revealed to have turned to alcohol from his depressions. Inspector Cobb describes him as "two steps from being an alcoholic", to which John jokingly tells him he's only one step from it.
Fictional character biography
Die Hard: Year One
A comic which details John's first adventure as a rookie ten years prior to the first movie.
Die Hard (1988)
In his original movie, John has recently separated from his wife Holly Gennero (her maiden name) after eleven years in the PD. She has left for Los Angeles to pursue a career in the Nakatomi Company while John remained in New York to work on open cases, but is secretly hoping that Holly will relent and return to him. She is also in custody of their two children Lucy and John.
Upon Christmas Eve, John is off-duty and visiting Holly in her workplace at Nakatomi Plaza, Los Angeles. Unfortunately for him, it was the beginning of his long vigilantist adventure in the movie series as a criminal group led by Hans Gruber plan to steal $640 million of bearer bonds from Nakatomi through his elaborate plan of taking hostages, posing as terrorists to distract the police, and later destroy the building in an explosion to fake their deaths.
John managed to hide from them long enough and sneaked through the building, contacting LAPD Sgt. Al Powell and befriending him in the process. He eliminates Gruber's men one by one while relaying much of the information gained to Powell.
He eventually fights Gruber in a final confrontation and kills him, saving the hostages. It is during this climax of the movie that he develops his most iconic phrase. When Gruber calls tells him "touching, Cowboy, touching," McClane replies with "Yipee-Ki-Yay, motherfucker!"
Later, he briefly reunites with Holly at the end of the movie and the two of them kiss.
Die Hard 2
Die Hard: With A Vengeance
Die Hard 4.0
A Good Day To Die Hard
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