Although Salman Rushdie was forced to go into hiding for several years in the 1990s, he has been living freely in New York in recent years, his friends say, appearing in public without evident security, even as his status as a high-profile author and champion of free speech has made him a celebrity.

In an interview last year, Rushdie, 75, was casual and easygoing as he spoke about literature from his Manhattan home, adopting the air of someone who had long ago reentered society and reveled in being a man about town. Asked about the long-standing call for his death, he answered simply, "Oh, I have to live my life.”

That was a dramatic change from 1988, when his novel "The Satanic Verses” was published. Some Muslims considered it blasphemous because it fictionalized part of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, and the following year Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie.