Richard Matheson, the versatile Golden Age science fiction and horror writer who created some of our most definitive visions of the unknown, has died at age 87. His daughter Ali Marie Matheson posted the news on Facebook earlier today and The Hollywood Reporter later confirmed it. The cause of death was not disclosed. "My beloved father passed away yesterday at home surrounded by the people and things he loved," she wrote. "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."
Matheson was born in 1926 and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He sold his first story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950, launching an over half-century career in prose, film, and television. In 1951, he married Ruth Ann Woodson, with whom he raised four children; three of them, including Ali Matheson, would also go on to write fiction or screenplays. In 1954, he published I Am Legend, a seminal post-apocalyptic novel that filmmakers would return to again and again for inspiration. The Incredible Shrinking Man, which also became a well-known film, followed shortly thereafter. In the 1960s, he wrote a number of episodes of The Twilight Zone, including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which starred a young William Shatner and was adapated from one of Matheson's short stories. "Steel," a Twilight Zone episode in which a man must fight a robot boxer, would later become the Hugh Jackman film Real Steel, and an adaptation of his novel What Dreams May Come won an Academy Award in 1999.
"In a way, I like to be confusing by combining genres."
Matheson continued publishing through 2011, moving through horror, science fiction, fantasy, and other genres; in a 1994 interview with The New York Times, he said he considered himself an "offbeat writer." His stories, which often explored the lives of men who must battle tremendous odds alone in a hostile world, have inspired writers like Stephen King. Matheson often began with simple ideas — he once said that he had written I Am Legend because "I saw Dracula and it was scary, so I thought if everybody in the world was a vampire, it would be scarier." But the result was a subtle, personal novel that was named "vampire novel of the century" in 2012. While many of his stories fit solidly within genre conventions, Matheson chafed at the notion that he should be pigeonholed or labeled. "I've said that when I die they will probably say 'Horrormiester Richard Matheson succumbs,'" he joked in one interview.
"All through the years, I've had many interests," he told the Times. "I always wanted to write a swashbuckler; I still do. I love Westerns. I wrote a western called "Journal of the Gun Years," which won the Golden Spur Award from the Western Writers of America. It had been written some time ago and rejected by every publisher, perhaps because I had been cast in the science fiction mold ... In a way, I like to be confusing by combining genres."