Richard Matheson (1926-2013)

Richard Matheson passed away this week at the age of 87.  Anyone who follows this blog has heard me mention that name many times before, and for good reason.  Matheson was a huge influence on my writing, one of three writers whose work I actively studied in my early years (the other two being Robert Bloch and Ray Bradbury).  His first book I read was I Am Legend, at age 14.  But I was familiar with his stories before then, I just didn’t know of the man behind the work.  My very first encounter was probably The Night Stalker, a popular made-for-TV movie he adapted from a novel by Jeff Rice.

Matheson wrote prolifically for Hollywood, both films and television.  He published several dozen short stories between 1950 and 1970 before abandoning short fiction altogether.  His first story, “Born of Man and Woman,” was an instant classic, and one of his final tales, “Duel,” helped launch Steven Spielberg’s directing career.  He adapted several others for the original Twilight Zone, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “The Invaders” and “Little Girl Lost.”

In terms of novels, he wrote a few classics:  I Am Legend (the world overrun by vampires), Hell House (the Mount Everest of haunted houses) and What Dreams May Come (a journey into the afterlife).

Matheson taught me the economy of storytelling.  He had a minimalist style, stark to the point of noir at times, which worked well for screenwriting.  He made every word count.  His prose was like a scalpel, so sharp you didn’t feel the blade go in until the story’s final gut-wrenching twist.

Rare is the genre writer of the past 50 years who doesn’t owe a debt to Richard Matheson, Mr. Paranoia.

UPDATE:  I linked to this a couple years back, thought it was an appropriate time to draw your attention to it once again.  Considering how quiet and modest Matheson remained throughout life, this extensive interview (over three hours long!) is likely the closest thing to an autobiography that he left behind.

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