Richard Matheson, one of the most prolific voices in 20th century science fiction, has died at his home in Los Angeles. He was 87.
With a career spanning over six decades, Matheson’s presence has been felt in virtually every medium from print to film. He is perhaps best known for the 1954 novel I Am Legend, which was adapted into live-action productions four times, including the 2007 Will Smith film and 1971’s The Omega Man. The novel played an instrumental role in the development of the zombie genre, inspiring George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, among other apocalyptic works. Matheson’s novels also include A Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come, and The Shrinking Man, all of which were adapted for the screen (and, in the latter’s case, featured a screenplay by Matheson).
Matheson wrote a wealth of short stories during his life, many of which were adapted (by both himself and others) into episodes of Night Gallery and The Outer Limits, as well as films such as The Box and Real Steel. In 1971, he adapted his story “Duel” for television, one of Steven Spielberg’s first feature-length productions. His other television work includes episodes of Star Trek, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Amazing Stories, The Night Stalker, and Have Gun Will Travel.
As prolific and influential as he was, perhaps none of his work has stuck with me quite like his contributions to The Twilight Zone. During the original run of the series from 1959-1964, Matheson wrote scripts for 14 episodes of the series, including the memorable “Third from the Sun,” “Little Girl Lost,” and the absolute classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which also appeared as the standout segment of the 1984 Twilight Zone feature film. It was on this series that I discovered Matheson’s writing, sitting around on New Year’s Day watching marathons on the Sci-Fi Channel. That show, with its twists and turns, ominous Rod Serling monologues, and a production that looked, but never felt, archaic, still manages to put most of today’s scripted series to shame. It may have been Serling’s show, but Matheson had just as large a role in crafting the lasting appeal of the series.
Matheson’s presence, and impact, spans the breadth of 20th century culture. He has influenced countless authors, directors, and producers, and considering the ubiquitous nature of his oeuvre, he will continue to have a lasting effect as long as there are still thrilling stories out there, waiting to be told (just so long as we have the appropriate key of imagination to unlock the door).