Arts & Entertainment

'I Am Legend,' 'Twilight Zone' writer Richard Matheson is dead at 87 (video)

Richard Matheson's 1954 novel
Richard Matheson's 1954 novel "I Am Legend" inspired three major feature films, including a 2007 version starring Will Smith.
Richard Matheson's 1954 novel
Richard Matheson's short story "Button, Button" was the inspiration for the 2009 film "The Box," starring Cameron Diaz (left) and James Marsden.
Richard Matheson's 1954 novel
Richard Matheson at a book signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, Calif., in 2006.
Patrick Lee/KPCC

Richard Matheson, the Southern California-based science fiction, fantasy and horror author who also wrote some of the most critically acclaimed episodes of TV's classic anthology series "The Twilight Zone," died Sunday at the age of 87, according to a post on the Facebook page of fellow SF author John Shirley.

Shirley's private Facebook page features a post attributed to Ali Matheson, daughter of the novelist whose most famous book, 1954's "I Am Legend," about a vampire apocalypse in Los Angeles, was adapted as a feature film three times: as "The Last Man on Earth" in 1964, "The Omega Man" in 1971 and "I Am Legend" with Will Smith in 2007:

Ali Matheson is the daughter of Richard Matheson. She says this: "My beloved father passed away yesterday at home surrounded by the people and things he loved...he was funny, brilliant, loving, generous, kind, creative, and the most wonderful father ever...I miss you and love you forever Pop and I know you are now happy and healthy in a beautiful place full of love and joy you always knew was there..." 

Matheson's novels, many of which were adapted as or inspired movies and TV series, included "The Shrinking Man," "What Dreams May Come" and "Hell House." His short stories included "Button, Button" — in which a man is given the chance to get $50,000 simply by pressing a button, but at the cost of someone else's life — which inspired a classic "Twlight Zone" episode from the 1980s remake of the series, as well as the 2009 Richard Kelly film "The Box," which starred Cameron Diaz.

Another Matheson story inspired his own script for "Duel," a 1971 TV movie starring Dennis Weaver that marked the second film directed by Steven Spielberg.

In the 1950s and '60s, Matheson wrote 14 episodes of "The Twilight Zone" — including "The Invaders," "Little Girl Lost" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which featured a young William Shatner as a mentally unstable man who sees a creature out his airplane window.

Matheson talked about his inspiration for the story during a 2002 interview with the Archive of American Television, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“I was on an airplane, and I looked out, and there was all these fluffy clouds, and I thought, ‘Gee, what if I saw a guy skiing across that like it was snow?’ because it looked like snow. But when I thought it over, that’s not very scary, so I turned it into a gremlin out on the wing of the airplane.”

Shatner went on to become the star of TV's "Star Trek," for which Matheson contributed a fan-favorite episode, "The Enemy Within."

Writers from Stephen King to Anne Rice cited Matheson as an influence. In 1984, Matheson received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. In 2010, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. 

Matheson died at his home in Calabasas, Calif., according to The Hollywood Reporter. 

Read Richard Matheson's entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

View Richard Matheson's full bilbiography at iSFDB.

 View the full episode of Matheson's 1961 "Twlight Zone" episode "The Invaders" below.

View the full episode of Matheson's 1963 "Twilight Zone" episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" below.