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Cliff K. Hillegass, the "Cliff" behind the enduring CliffsNotes study guides, died May 5. He was 83.

An ambitious self-starter, Mr. Hillegass borrowed $4,000 in 1958 to create CliffsNotes out of the basement of his home in Lincoln, Neb. After persuading college-bookstore managers around the country to display his first guide—for William Shakespeare's "Hamlet"—the idea took off. He published some 250 guides before selling the company in 1998 for $14 million.

The founder envisioned the guides as starting points for students as they encountered complex texts. By offering some background on the authors and literary works, synopses of the texts, and review sections and analyses, Mr. Hillegass hoped more students would grow to appreciate the classics.

But just as he cautioned students to use the notes responsibly—advising that "a thorough appreciation of literature allows no shortcuts"—the guides gained a reputation among generations of high school and college students as the ultimate means of avoiding reading assigned texts or cramming for quizzes. ("CliffsNotes Guides Revised in Bid To Impress Tough Critics: Teachers," Nov. 8, 2000.)

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 20, Issue 36, Page 4

Published in Print: May 16, 2001, as Death

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