The world lost a literary heavyweight this week and few probably noticed. Richard Matheson died at the age of 87. He was my favorite wordsmith, a visionary writer who took the reader on a journey that often ended up not only in a different direction than the reader thought, but a different dimension entirely. He was wickedly good.
He was the primary inspiration for me to write my own short story collections, “Morsels: Twisted Tales of Life and Death Vol. 1 & 2.”
Even if you’ve never heard of him and never read anything he’s written, I bet you’ve seen a movie or TV show based on one of his books, short stories or screenplays. He wrote for “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Night Gallery” TV shows and many other shows..
Matheson wrote sixteen episodes of the “Twilight Zone,” including the classic, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” where a young William Shatner sees a creature on the wing of the plane in which he’s flying. The show was recreated for the big screen in “Twilight Zone: The Movie” with John Lithgow in the Shatner role.
The 1957 film “The Incredible Shrinking Man” was based on the Matheson novel, “The Shrinking Man.”
He wrote the classic “Star Trek” episode, “The Enemy Within,” in which a transporter malfunction causes Captain Kirk to be split into two people, a good Kirk and an evil Kirk who gets drunk and assaults a female crew member.
He wrote the screenplay for the 1973 movie, “The Legend of Hell House” based on his own book, “Hell House.”
Matheson’s 1954 novel, “I Am Legend,” was filmed three times. In 1964, it was adapted as “The Last Man on Earth,” starring Vincent Price. In 1971, it was filmed as “The Omega Man,” starring Charlton Heston. And in 2007, it was shot as “I Am Legend,” starring Will Smith.
“Bid Time Return,” Richard Matheson’s 1975 novel, was turned into a movie called “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeve. Matheson wrote the screenplay for the movie.
A Matheson short story was the basis for the 1971 Steven Spielberg TV movie, “Duel,” starring Dennis Weaver as a man chased and tormented by a trucker.
The 1975 classic TV movie “Trilogy of Terror” was based on three Matheson short stories, as was the 1996 sequel, “Trilogy of Terror II.”
The 1998 Robin Williams movie, “What Dreams May Come,” was based on Matheson’s novel of the same name.
Matheson also provided the story for “Stir of Echoes,” a 1999 horror film starring Kevin Bacon.
The creepy 2009 film “The Box” was based on the short story, “Button, Button,” which had previously been shot as an episode of the new “Twilight Zone” series in 1986.
“Real Steel,” the 2011 robot boxing movie starring Hugh Jackman was based on Matheson’s novel, “Steel.”
It would be hard to find someone who has never come into contact with Matheson’s work. You can’t go wrong picking up a Richard Matheson novel or short story collection. We’ve lost a great literary voice but he’s left a treasure trove of stories to entertain and inspire us.
On a side note, his son, Richard Christian Matheson, is also a writer and wrote the quirky screenplay for one of my favorite movies, “3 O’Clock High.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s a funny little gem.
Rest in peace, Mr. Matheson. Thanks for the adventures.