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Last year, the entertainment industry lost a giant to a hard-fought battle with Crohn’s disease: Daniel Thomas O’Bannon, who died at only 63. Though not as well-known as some of his peers, Dan was deeply influential in the science fiction and horror genres, and the recent VCI release of his debut feature DARK STAR on a special new Hyperdrive Edition DVD is just one testament to his many talents.
A native of St. Louis, MO, O’Bannon originally aspired to be a fine artist (the “next Norman Rockwell,” he told me once, and he was quite good). Eventually, and after a brief stay with Forrest J Ackerman, he found work as an artist in underground comix, along with friends William Stout and Robert Williams. Due to the sociopolitical environment of the times (the early 1970s), O’Bannon began to invest more time in his writing and less in his envelope-pushing artwork; a visit from Nixon’s FBI likely had something to do with that decision…
Later, after attending film school at USC, O’Bannon found success (along with director John Carpenter) as co-creator of the seminal DARK STAR, on which he served as actor/co-writer/editor/production designer and special FX supervisor. A partial list of his other credits displays the depth and range of his abilities and talents: computer graphics for STAR WARS; co-scripter of ALIEN (which arose from his involvement in the ill-fated Alejandro Jodorowsky DUNE project; a lover of art (“Many people don’t realize that Dan was the person responsible for getting H.R. Giger into the Hollywood film industry,” Leslie Barany told me); writer of the future-noir comic THE LONG TOMORROW (first illustrated by O’Bannon, then later by Moebius—for MÉTAL HURLANT magazine in France, known in the States as HEAVY METAL—it would influence Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER); author of two segments in the HEAVY METAL animated feature (“B-17” and “Soft Landing”); writer/director of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD; director of THE RESURRECTED…not to mention his many other cinematic contributions, such as BLUE THUNDER, TOTAL RECALL, DEAD & BURIED, LIFEFORCE and so on.
As befits someone of his talent, O’Bannon accumulated numerous awards during his career. These included a Golden Scroll, an Inkpot Award for his contributions to the genre, a Fango Chainsaw Award for THE RESURRECTED and (in October 2009) the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival “Howie” Award, which meant a great deal to him as a lifelong enthusiast of Lovecraft’s work. But he was never content with resting on his proverbial laurels, as others have done, and constantly kept busy; in his later years, and in spite of his terrible illness, he wrote and edited a version of THE NECRONOMICON, a treatise on screenwriting and several other books, many of which are soon to see publication.
Additionally, unbeknownst to most, he continued to polish older scripts (his wife Diane is still seeking a producer for OMNIVORE, a.k.a. THEY BITE, and O’Bannon’s screenplay THE MEN was recently optioned by a major producer/director); collaborate on new projects (including with this writer on the anthologies THE BLEEDING EDGE and the forthcoming THE DEVIL’S COATTAILS, as well as a couple of film ideas); work on drawings; and write new screenplays. In fact, his final original script, PAIN CLINIC, is in active play, being revised as a small-budget horror film. He is interviewed in Daniel Griffith’s “Let There Be Light: The Odyssey Of DARK STAR” documentary on that new DVD, and featured in my own upcoming documentary on Ackerman, THE ACKERMONSTER CHRONICLES.
O’Bannon was a brilliant intellectual, artist, writer and scholar. Always generous, he was warm and open, and appreciated strong opinions and offbeat ideas. Though his last couple of years were tough for him physically (as well as for Diane and their son Adam), his mind was sharp as a razor. His passion was still there. His creativity never flagged, and although he was struck down too early, he is still a presence on Facebook (The Official Dan O’Bannon Fan Page is maintained by Diane and a few close friends), and his official website is now live. Such is the age in which we exist—those with something to impart continue to challenge, to touch, to move, even after they are physically no longer in our midst. O’Bannon will be dearly missed by those of us who knew and loved him, and by those whose lives he touched with his outstanding body of work. Indeed, his legacy will never truly vanish as long as there are people who appreciate outstanding quality, strange beauty and beacons in the darkness.
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