Richard Matheson, one of the most influential American storytellers to work in the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres during the past century, has passed away at age 87. The celebrated novelist/screenwriter is reported to have been ill in recent months, and died at home yesterday – at the time of writing this – on June 23rd, 2013. Matheson commemorated his 60-year wedding anniversary with Ruth Anne Woodson last year, and is survived by four children (three being accomplished writers in their own right).
Matheson was born to Norwegian immigrants (Fanny and Bertolf) in Allendale, New Jersey on February 20th, 1926. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1943, and then entered the military to serve as an infantry soldier in World War II. After earning a degree in journalism in 1949, Matheson moved to California and formally began his writing career when his short story “Born of Man and Woman” was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950.
Many of Matheson’s famous and beloved literary works ended up being adapted to the film medium, including genre landmark titles like I Am Legend – which inspired three movie adaptations (the most recent being the 2007 Will Smith vehicle) – and The Shrinking Man, in addition to The Legend of Hell House, What Dreams May Come and A Stir of Echoes, among several others (read the complete list).
Similarly, Matheson wrote the short stories behind films like Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut Duel in 1971 and Somewhere in Time in 1980, as well as Richard Kelly’s The Box and Shawn Levy’s Real Steel in more recent years.
It wasn’t just the imaginative nature of Matheson’s oeuvre that established his place in literature and film history, but also the human heart that always pounded so fiercely just beneath the surface of his stories about vampires, miniaturized people, angry specters, mysterious devices, metallic boxers and journeys into the afterlife (among other creative scenarios and fantastical characters). There was a strong moral, ethical and spiritual core to Matheson’s great work, which long helped to distinguish his source material from any lackluster adaptations or derived works of fiction.
Matheson’s work could also be quite pragmatic with its portrayal of futuristic concepts, as he touched upon during an interview with Screen Rant from back in 2011 (explaining the difference between sci-fi and fantasy):
“Science-fiction is perfectly logical, and it could happen. Whereas fantasy, which I prefer, means that there are no rules. Anything can happen and it usually does. It has to be logical, it has to be done in a way that seems like it makes sense to you. But at the same time, there are no strict rules as in science-fiction.”
In addition, Matheson was a prominent writer for the television medium during the second half of the 20th century. He wrote for 16 different episodes of the original Twilight Zone TV series, in addition to episodes on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, the original 1960s Star Trek TV show (Matheson scripted “The Enemy Within”) and the 1970s supernatural horror TV cult classic The Night Stalker, among other noteworthy titles.
The Screen Rant staff would like to express their sincere condolences to the friends and family of Richard Matheson in this difficult time. So many of his stories were personally meaningful – and impactful to millions upon millions of people (including this writer) – that it’s impossible for us to do full justice by his contributions to society through his artful storytelling.
R.I.P. Richard Burton Matheson: February 20th, 1926 – June 23rd, 2013.