I Am Legend author Richard Matheson dies at 87

Richard Matheson, the prolific science-fiction and fantasy writer whose I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man were transformed into films, has died. He was 87.

Inspired authors, TV and film creators, from Steven Spielberg to Stephen King

Richard Matheson's popular story I Am Legend spawned multiple film adaptations, including the Will Smith version in 2007. (Warner Bros. Pictures/Associated Press)

Richard Matheson, the prolific science-fiction and fantasy writer whose I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man were transformed into films, has died. He was 87.

A spokesman for the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films said Matheson died Sunday in Los Angeles. No other details were provided.

With a career spanning more than 60 years, Matheson crafted stories that deftly transitioned from the page to both the big and small screens. Several of his works were adapted into films, including 1953's Hell House, 1956's The Shrinking Man, 1958's A Stir of Echoes and 1978's What Dreams May Come.

Big and small screen inspiration

Matheson's 1954 science-fiction vampire novel I Am Legend inspired three different film adaptations: 1964's The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price, 1971's Omega Man starring Charlton Heston, and 2007's I Am Legend starring Will Smith.

American science fiction author Richard Matheson inspired other writers, filmmakers and television creators, from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg. (JaSunni/PicasaWeb/Wikimedia Commons)

Matheson was also responsible for writing several episodes of the TV show The Twilight Zone, as well as episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, The Martian Chronicles and Amazing Stories. His Twilight Zone installments included "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which featured William Shatner as an airplane passenger who spots a creature on the plane's wing, as well as "Steel," which inspired the 2011 film Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman.

"I loved Richard Matheson's writing, and it was a huge honor getting to adapt his story Button, Button into a film," posted Donnie Darko and The Box director Richard Kelly on Twitter on Monday.

Matheson influenced several generations of storytellers. Among them were Stephen King, who dedicated his 2006 novel Cell to Matheson, and Steven Spielberg, whose first feature-length film was the made-for-TV movie Duel, based on the Matheson short story of the same name.

"Richard Matheson's ironic and iconic imagination created seminal science-fiction stories and gave me my first break when he wrote the short story and screenplay for Duel," said Spielberg in a statement. "His Twilight Zones were among my favourites, and he recently worked with us on Real Steel. For me, he is in the same category as [Ray] Bradbury and [Isaac] Asimov."

Posthumous honour

Matheson was scheduled to receive the visionary award at the Academy of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Films' Saturn Awards on Wednesday. The organization said the award will be presented posthumously and the 39th annual ceremony would be dedicated to Matheson.

"We are heartbroken to lose a writer of towering talent, unlimited imagination and unparalleled inspiration," said Robert Holguin, the academy's president.

"Richard was a genius whose visions helped bring legitimacy and critical acclaim to science fiction and fantasy. He was also a longtime supporter of the academy, and everyone associated with the Saturn Awards feels emptier today to learn of this enormous loss."

Matheson is survived by his wife and four children.