Dominique Lapierre, the bestselling French author well-known in India for his ode to the city of Kolkata titled The City of Joy', has died aged 91, his wife has said.

Lapierre, who was conferred India's third-highest civilian award Padma Bhushan in the 2008, founded a humanitarian association with his wife entitled the City of Joy Foundation rescuing children suffering from leprosy from the slums of Kolkata. Dating back to 1981, it was supported by the royalties from his many literary successes.

"At 91, he died of old age," the author's wife Dominique Conchon-Lapierre was quoted as saying by the French newspaper Var-Matin' on Sunday.

The couple's foundation from the 1980s is believed to have rescued 9,000 children suffering from leprosy and other diseases due to malnutrition and poverty in India. The charity website notes that it has also helped fight back tuberculosis in 1,200 villages, dug 541 tube wells for drinking water, provided medical assistance to over 5 million patients over the years.

While completing military service in 1954, Lapierre met an American soldier named Larry Collins.

An everlasting friendship and a valuable partnership sprang from this meeting and the duo went on to collaborate on some of the most memorable books including Is Paris Burning?' - made into a major motion picture - and others such as O Jerusalem', Freedom at Midnight', 'Is New York Burning?' and The Fifth Horseman', books read by millions of readers in more than 30 languages.

Born on July 30, 1931 in Chatelaillon, the author was known for his passion for travel. While researching in Kolkata, Calcutta at the time, he became a close associate of Mother Teresa who gave him the authorisation to write a film on her life and the work of her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity.

With Geraldine Chaplin playing the role of Mother Teresa, the film Mother Teresa: In the Name of God's Poor' was aired on the Family Channel in the US and several European channels. Lapierre's script was also nominated by the prestigious Humanitas Prize for communicating the best values.

According to the Speaker Booking Agency, Lapierre's first taste of fame came when as a 17-year-old he left Paris with USD 30 and worked aboard a ship. Disembarking in the US, he managed a 30,000-mile jaunt around North America.

This adventure led to Lapierre's first bestselling book, A Dollar for a Thousand Miles' and since then, he continuously searched for new messages and stories in different parts of the world.

In 1991, Lapierre published Beyond Love', the epic story of the discovery of the AIDS virus. Among his later works, A Thousand Suns' chronicles the heroes and events that have shaped the life of the author-philanthropist and India mon amour' his memoir reflecting his love for India.