A Seventh Day Adventist who grew up in Lismore in NSW, Ellis wrote speeches for Labor leaders including Paul Keating, Kim Beazley, Bob Carr and Mike Rann. He was also a political commentator, author, screenwriter and playwright.
His son Jack confirmed that Ellis died surrounded by family at his Palm Beach home in Sydney on Sunday afternoon.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Ellis was a “literary true believer” who had “blessed Australia with more than four decades of brilliant phrases.
“Bob’s writing moved people to tears and drove others to litigation. At every turn he confounded and delighted, he shocked and awed,” Shorten said in a statement on Sunday night.
“There was truly no such thing as a dispassionate Ellis piece. With Bob, it was always personal, it was always emotional, it was never dull,” Shorten said.
“Bob was Labor, and Labor will miss him.”
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd tweeted that “Bob Ellis was the Truest of the True Believers”.
Ellis was educated at Lismore High and Sydney University and married writer Anne Brooksbank in 1969. They had three children.
In a long writing career he wrote for Sydney newspapers, an advertising agency, the theatre and film and television, including screenplays for Newsfront and The Nostradamus Kid.
He also penned six novels and 13 volumes of non-fiction.
In 1994 Ellis unsuccessfully ran as an independent against Bronwyn Bishop – who was trying to move to the lower house – in a by-election for the seat of Mackellar.
But he won more than 23 per cent of the vote in the safe Liberal seat, an achievement he said derailed Bishop’s leadership ambitions and therefore “caused the Howard era” and, in turn, Abbott’s.
In January this year Ellis offered to help entrepreneur Dick Smith challenge Ms Bishop again in Mackellar.
One of his novels, the 1997 Goodbye Jerusalem, was pulped after Tony Abbott and Peter Costello and their wives took defamation action and were awarded $277,000 damages.
Former South Australian Premier Mike Rann tweeted on Sunday night that Ellis was “a great writer and film maker, political activist and the best of friends”.
“He could write like an angel. At times outrageous and iconoclastic but also insightful, caring, poetic, sweet and melancholic. Naughty.”
“Bob charted his own course. He didn’t obey the `rules'”.