R.I.P. Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson in 2008
Richard Matheson in 2008

The American writer Richard Matheson (photo ©JaSunni) died last Sunday after a long illness.

Richard Burton Matheson was born on February 20, 1926 in Allendale, New Jersey. Grown up in Brooklyn, he fought as an infantryman in World War II. In 1949 he earned a bachelor in journalism at the University of Missouri.

In 1950, Richard Matheson published his first short story, “Born of Man and Woman”, which immediately showed his style with nightmares that come out from the everyday to disrupt the lives of the protagonists. The story can be classified as horror but from the beginning the author went beyond simple labels.

In 1951 Richard Matheson moved to California and in 1952 married Ruth Ann Woodson, with whom he had four children, three of whom have become writers themselves. As a writer, he showed his versatility publishing stories of various genres and his early novels are the thrillers “Someone Is Bleeding” (1953) and “Fury on Sunday”, (1953).

In 1954, Richard Matheson published his most famous novel, “I Am Legend”, which over the years has been adapted into three movies: “The Last Man on Earth” in 1964, “The Omega Man” in 1971 and “I Am Legend” in 2007 , which re-interpreted in a the story in different ways.

In the following years, Richard Matheson published other novels that blend in different ways science fiction, fantasy and horror such as “The Shrinking Man” in 1956 and “A Stir of Echoes” in 1958. Even when he writes science fiction, the author isn’t interested in technology but the human side, so much that in “Bid Time Return” (1975), time travel is accomplished through a form of self-hypnosis and not through a machine and is essentially a love story. All of these novels have been adapted into movies.

Richard Matheson always continued his work as a writer but over the years he devoted himself more and more to being a screenwriter. He wrote 14 episodes of the series “The Twilight Zone”, movie adaptations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe, “Star Trek” episode “The Enemy Within”, the screenplays for movies such as “Master of the World”, “Burn Witch Burn”, adapted from the novel “Conjure Wife” by Fritz Leiber, the one for the movie “Duel”, adapted from one of his stories, which marked the directorial debut of Steven Spielberg; he adapted into a mini-series “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury on and on until a few episodes of the new series of “The Outer Limits”.

His versatility is also seen in the various awards received in his career: the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1984, the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1991 and the introduction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010.

Many of his stories were collected in the four anthologies “Shock”, a very fitting title because Richard Matheson was a master of the nightmares that affect his characters, whether it’s their dark side that suddenly emerges, the consequences of scientific experiments gone bad or supernatural phenomena.

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