I would really like to make it longer than two weeks without having to write an obituary for a mega-talented genre writer, because we’re falling into an all-too-familiar pattern here of late. First we lost Jack Vance, then — far, far too young — Iain M. Banks, and now today comes the news that Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend and many, many other things, has passed away at the age of 87.
While we’ve all got a death in our ledger, it’s at least nice to see a situation like Matheson, who lived to an old age and leaves behind a collection of work any writer would be proud of. Matheson had apparently been ill for a while, and finally passed away yesterday. Shock Till You Drop shared the following comment from Matheson’s daughter, Ali:
My beloved father passed away yesterday at home surrounded by the people and things he loved…he was funny, brilliant, loving, generous, kind, creative, and the most wonderful father ever…I miss you and love you forever Pop and I know you are now happy and healthy in a beautiful place full of love and joy you always knew was there…
After his first published short story was released in the summer 1950 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Matheson’s career went on to span books, films, and television. His most famous work is probably I Am Legend, which has been adapted — with varying degrees of success — for film several times over the years, including 1964’s The Last Man on Earth, 1971’s The Omega Man, and Will Smith’s disappointing 2007 version. Nor was that tale the only one Hollywood has raided over the years. Matheson’s bibliography also includes such classic tales as The Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come, and Bid Time Return, which was adapted into the 1980 film Somewhere in Time.
Nor was Matheson just handing off the rights to his print works for others to adapt. He wrote extensively for television over the decades, most notably penning the 1966 Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within” and the two TV movies that led to the Kolchack: the Night Stalker series. He also wrote many episodes of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, including the William Shatner “There’s something on the wing!” outing, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” (Which was later remade as a segment of the 1983 Twilight Zone, which handed the Shatner role off to John Lithgow.) More recently, his 1956 short story “Steel” served as the basis for the 2011 Hugh Jackman robot boxing flick Real Steel.
I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Matheson. A friend got me hooked on him in high school, and one of my first dates with the lady I would eventually marry was a showing of What Dreams May Come. If you’ve never read anything by Matheson, do yourself a favor and use this sad news as an excuse to dive into his works. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go rewatch Somewhere in Time.