Richard Matheson wrote "I Am Legend," which was turned into films three times, and also wrote 16 episodes of the original "Twilight Zone" television series for Rod Serling. He was the screenwriter as well for "Duel," Steven Spielberg's 1971 TV movie debut. The Writers Guild of America announced that Matheson died on Sunday at home in Calabasas.
Legendary screen-television writer and novelist Richard Matheson, whose science-fiction/fantasy/horror scripts, short stories, and books influenced a generation of genre writers, died on Sunday, June 23, at his home in Calabasas, California, after a long illness at age 87.
“Richard was a legend. Even growing up in the wilds of Michigan, I became aware of and appreciated his work at a young age. I read the paperback of I Am Legend at summer camp. He, more than any other writer, inspired me to become a screenwriter. The world has lost a great one,” said "Man of Steel" screenwriter and WGAW Board of Directors member David S. Goyer.
“There was often a sense of wild possibility, the chance of transcending our stuffy little realities, in Matheson's work,” said sci-fi novelist and "The Crow" co-screenwriter John P. Shirley. “It began, for me, with the classic Twilight Zone episodes Matheson wrote. They encapsulated the human dilemma in eerie metaphor. They nudged the horror form into modernism into a new sleek sophistication.”
Born on February 20, 1926, in Allendale, New Jersey, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Richard Matheson was one of America’s most iconic, renowned science fiction and fantasy novelists and screenwriters. He enjoyed a long and luminous writing career, starting with the publication of his first short story, “Born of Man and Woman,” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950 and continuing to publish a slew of well-received fantasy, horror, and mystery short stories over the decade. Several years later, he launched his screenwriter career by adapting his own novel, "The Shrinking Man," for the big screen sci-fi adventure, "The Incredible Shrinking Man" (1957), for which he received a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, shared with director Jack Arnold.
On the television front, he was a prolific contributor to Rod Serling’s original, ground-breaking TV anthology series, "The Twilight Zone," penning many of the series’ most memorable episodes, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “Night Call,” “Nick of Time,” “The Invaders,” and “A World of His Own.” He also wrote for the classic sci-fi series "Star Trek" (including episodes such as “The Enemy Within”) and later for Rod Serling’s "Night Gallery," as well as contributed to the ’80s TV reboot of "The Twilight Zone." Earlier this month, three enduringly popular series that Matheson wrote for – "The Twilight Zone," "Star Trek," and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" – were named among WGA’s 101 Best Written TV Series of all time, coming in at #3, #33, and #79 respectively.
In the film arena, during the 1960s Matheson adapted several Edgar Allan Poe classics for a string of low-budget horror hits for producer/director Roger Corman, including "The House of Usher," "The Pit & the Pendulum," "Tales of Terror," and 1963’s "The Raven," which featured a young Jack Nicholson in one of his earliest film roles.
The 1970s were a particularly fertile period for Matheson: During this decade, among many other projects, he wrote Steven Spielberg’s debut full-length directorial effort, the suspenseful TV movie "Duel" (for which Matheson received a 1972 WGA nomination; Television: Anthology Adapted) and penned teleplays for the highly rated vampire thriller "The Night Stalker" and its equally popular sequel, "The Night Strangler," both of which formed the basis [for] "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," TV’s mid-’70s cult favorite supernatural series starring Darren McGavin.
Matheson’s film and TV writing continued well into subsequent decades, as the prolific author worked again with Steven Spielberg on "Twilight Zone: The Movie" and the TV series "Amazing Stories," for which he received a 1987 WGA nomination for the episode “The Doll” (Television: Anthology Episode/Single Program). In a throwback to his ’60s work, he adapted two Rod Serling stories for the 1994 telefilm "Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics."
In addition to writing numerous novels and screenplays, Matheson also proved a favorite author for others to adapt. His 1954 novel, "I Am Legend," spawned three different film adaptations, starting with 1964’s "The Last Man on Earth" and most recently 2007’s "I Am Legend" starring Will Smith. Several of Matheson’s novels, including "The Omega Man," "Somewhere in Time," "What Dreams May Come," and "A Stir of Echoes," have all received the Hollywood treatment and been adapted into feature films – Matheson himself penned the screenplay for the film "Somewhere in Time," based on his novel, "Bid Time Return." Most recently, Matheson’s short story “Button, Button” (itself the basis for a classic Twilight Zone episode) was adapted for the horror film "The Box" (2008), and Matheson’s short story, “Steel,” was adapted for the 2011 hit Disney family film, "Real Steel," starring Hugh Jackman.
Three of Matheson's four children are WGA members.