In what has been an exceptionally cruel twelve months for beloved authors of science-fiction, following the deaths of both Ray Bradbury and Iain Banks, word has now also come that Richard Matheson has died aged 87
after a long illness at his home in Calabasas, California. Perhaps best known as a writer of short stories and novels – several of which were adapted into well-known films and episodes of television – his body of work also spanned screenplays, teleplays and even a piece of spiritual philosophy, all of which proved hugely influential to subsequent dabblers in the realm of the fantastic
Arguably his most famous novel is his first, the 1954 vampire apocalypse I Am Legend
, which has seen three separate cinematic incarnations: The first, co-written pseudonymously by Matheson himself, was 1964’s The Last Man Alive
, starring Vincent Price. It was followed by 1971’s The Omega Man
, with Charlton Heston, and finally under the novel’s own name in 2007 with Will Smith. In their quests for thrills, none of the three quite nail the overwhelming sense of dread and eerie beauty that permeates Matheson’s book and presumably played a large part in the Horror Writers Association naming it Vampire Novel of the Century in 2012.
So it went with most adaptations of his work – though Hollywood used Matheson as a seemingly bottomless source of ideas, few of the films and TV shows in which he didn’t have a direct hand were quite able to capture the essence of their source material (it is perhaps no coincidence that one of Matheson’s most enthusiastic acolytes, Stephen King, has suffered largely the same fate). There is no doubt, however, that those adaptations brought Matheson readers who might not otherwise have encountered What Dreams May Come
, Bid Time Return
(filmed as Somewhere in Time
), “Button, Button” (filmed as The Box
), “Steel” (filmed as Real Steel
), A Stir of Echoes
or “Little Girl Lost” (filmed, amongst many others, as an episode of The Twilight Zone
and subsequently parodied in the Simpsons
Halloween special where Homer enters the third dimension). In his merging of these pulpy set-ups that so attracted Hollywood with deeper existential questions, Matheson was in many respects the quintessential horror and sci-fi author of the late twentieth century. He will be missed.