Author and screenwriter Richard Matheson, an undisputed giant in the genres of science fiction, horror and fantasy, passed away on Sunday (June 23) at the age of 87.
Among Matheson's many classic novels were his masterpiece, "I Am Legend," along with "The Shrinking Man," "Hell House," "A Stir of Echoes" and "What Dreams May Come," all of which were made into movies -- with "I Am Legend" filmed three times.
Matheson also wrote some of the most famous episodes of the original "Twilight Zone" -- many of them adapted from his own short stories -- including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," "The Invaders" and "Steel." His short story that he adapted for the latter also became the basis of the Hugh Jackman movie "Real Steel."
In addition, Matheson penned the teleplays for some of the most frightening TV movies of the early '70s, including the Steven Spielberg-directed "Duel" and the Dan Curtis production "The Night Stalker." He wrote for many other TV shows as well, and also wrote crime fiction, mysteries and many other different types of tales.
Matheson was born in Brooklyn, New York but moved to California in 1951, where he remained for the rest of his life. He sold his first short story, the eerie "Born of Man and Woman," in 1950 to "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction."
His first film screenplay was for "The Incredible Shrinking Man," based on his novel "The Shrinking Man." Matheson took what could have been a silly premise -- a man begins to shrink -- and turned it into a profound and gripping meditation on humanity's place in the universe.
His most enduring work, however, may be "I Am Legend," in which a scientist who may be the last living human being struggles against a worldwide plague of vampires. The novel was groundbreaking in that it took the old Gothic stereotype of the undead bloodsucker and placed it firmly in the modern world with a scientific basis. That merging of science fiction and horror influenced countless authors who came after Matheson, most notably Stephen King.
Bing: More on 'I Am Legend'
The book was filmed in 1964 as "The Last Man on Earth" with Vincent Price, in 1971 as "The Omega Man" with Charlton Heston, and in 2007 under the original title with Will Smith.
Matheson once told CinemaSpy (via io9), "I think we're yearning for something beyond the every day. And I will tell you I don't believe in the supernatural, I believe in the supernormal. To me there is nothing that goes against nature. If it seems incomprehensible, it's only because we haven't been able to understand it yet."
One thing that everyone should understand is that if you have enjoyed anything in the horror, science fiction or fantasy genres that was written or filmed in the last 60 years, it's quite possible that it owes some sort of debt to Richard Matheson. He was never a household name, but his influence and his work will cast a long shadow over the fantastic arts for all time.