He Was Legend
Iconic sci-fi author Richard Matheson dies.
Without Richard Matheson, there might not be a Steven Spielberg or a Stephen King. Matheson, who graduated from MU with a journalism degree in 1949, moved to California in 1951 where he wrote himself into the history books as a master of sci-fi and horror. He died June 23, 2013, at 87.
Matheson’s novels, short stories and screenplays often evolved from a simple what-if question. What if a vampire pandemic wipes out the human race except one man? His answer, published in 1954, was I Am Legend, which was adapted to film three times, most recently in 2007 starring Will Smith. His 1956 novel The Shrinking Man, twice adapted for the silver screen, wondered what happens if a man starts to shrink after being exposed to radioactivity and insecticide.
His 1971 short story Duel was adapted for the screen and directed by a young Spielberg, his first feature-length film. “Richard Matheson’s ironic and iconic imagination created seminal science-fiction stories,” Spielberg said in a statement about Matheson after his death. “For me, he is in the same category as [Ray] Bradbury and [Isaac] Asimov.”
Among Matheson’s most notable TV credits are 16 episodes of The Twilight Zone, including the quintessential “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” starring William Shatner as an airplane passenger who spots a gremlin on the wing of his plane.
“He fired my imagination by placing his horrors not in European castles and Lovecraftian universes but in American scenes I knew and could relate to,” King wrote in a tribute on his website.
In a 2007 Q-and-A with Columbia Daily Tribune writer Pete Bland, BJ ’93, Matheson reminisced about his time at Mizzou. He recalled winning a $25 prize for a concert review; serving as the music critic for the Columbia Missourian; writing The Journalism School Show with late classmate Norman Kennelly, BA ’49; and taking writing classes with the late English Professor William Peden.
“When I took the class,” Matheson told Bland, “most of the students in it would be writing stories about war, the apocalypse and race relations, and I’d be writing a little story about a Christmas tree that killed people.”