Chris Alexander Remembers RICHARD MATHESON, 1926-2013
The great Richard Matheson has passed.
The man who invented the template for what would evolve – with some un-authorized assistance from George A. Romero – into the modern zombie and who re-invented what a vampire could be with his 1954 novella I AM LEGEND, defined the parameters of dark fantasy fiction, working in all mediums and developing a style and evolving thematic arc that carried into his final writings.
He was 87.
Outside of the infinitely influential I AM LEGEND – adapted to film officially in 1964’s THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, 1971’s THE OMEGA MAN and 2009’s I AM LEGEND – Matheson’s unique, lyrical brand of often romantic, melancholy and metaphysically obsessed work included such influential novels as BID TIME RETURN, A STIR OF ECHOES, HELL HOUSE and THE SHRINKING MAN. His words helped give even greater gravitas to his friend and colleague Rod Serling’s iconic TV series THE TWILIGHT ZONE with such memorable episodes as “Nick of Time” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. His work with late TV pioneer and DARK SHADOWS father Dan Curtis in pictures like THE NIGHT STALKER, DRACULA and TRILOGY OF TERROR were career highlights of both men and his ingenious scripts for Roger Corman’s literate and legendary films – like PIT AND THE PENDULUM, TALES OF TERROR and COMEDY OF TERRORS still stand as some of the best horror/fantasy films of all time.
Indeed, there is so much to say about Matheson. And truly, as I just heard this news…I’m at something of a loss.
A decade ago, one of my first assignments at Canadian horror magazine RUE MORGUE was to interview Matheson, who is and always will be my favorite writer of all time. I called him on the phone. It was one of the biggest thrills and most nerve wracking experiences of my professional life. We spoke for an hour, I talked over him often, he got mad at me about that and we left with the promise that I would fax him the interview before publishing so he could correct anything he did not stand by. So we did this. Faxing back and forth. I wrote the feature with as much love and passion as I had in me. It was my first cover story. I still have the faxes with his pencil edits.
I AM LEGEND changed my life. It still changes my life. It is the best work of existential horror ever written and yet no one has ever accurately adapted it. Romero came close with his loose riff, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but nihilism replaced the first person poetry of one man, Robert Neville, living life in terror and misery, flipping through every emotion and ending up crucified for what he believes to be his purpose. It’s not just a vampire story, it’s a story of the human spirit and the need to find a reason to live even when life doesn’t want you to.
But all of Matheson’s best tales were about this. Morality. Meaning. A search for something greater than we are. His latter day works like the brutal HUNTED PAST REASON still pushed those philosophies and as he aged, as he lived, loved, learned and lost, so then did his fiction mature and evolve with him.
I was blessed to have used that phone number several times since. Interviewing Richard for my first book, a Toronto Star feature and two features in FANGORIA. In 2011 I gave Richard the cover of FANGORIA, issue #301, and that was a huge thrill for me. Another love letter to my hero. I worked hard on that feature. I’m proud of it as it was only a year into my tenure as EIC and to be able to make that call to put such a titan of literature on the front was a feeling I’ll never forget.
I spoke to Richard not long ago and he did seem frail of voice. But he was always sharp of mind. Always full of fire, opinion and always spoke of the future.
He passed in his California home beside his things, his family, the sights and sound of the world he loved. I will never, ever forget him. His ideas will live in everything I do. And I am so not alone. So many people were touched and will continue to be touched by him, forever and ever until there aren’t any tomorrows.
Richard has vanished from our sight, but he must exist, somewhere.
“If nature existed on endless levels, so also might intelligence,” closed his 1957 novel THE SHRINKING MAN. It’s impossible to believe that that beautiful mind is no more…it isn’t. It goes on.
-Chris Alexander, FANGORIA Editor-in-Chief
June 24, 2013
Stay tuned for a post containing the interview from our cover story on Richard Matheson in FANGORIA #301.