John Michael Crichton, director, screenwriter and bestselling author of sci-fi thrillers that inspired some of Hollywood’s most popular movies and TV shows, including “Jurassic Park” and “The Andromeda Strain,” died of cancer Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 66.
Crichton received numerous awards across genres and forms for his work and was Emmy nommed eight times for drama series for “ER,” winning one Emmy in 1996. He was also part of a team that won a 1995 technical achievement Oscar for developing computerized motion picture budgeting.
“He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the earth,” said “Jurassic Park” helmer Steven Spielberg. “In the early days, Michael had just sold ‘The Andromeda Strain’ to Robert Wise at Universal, and I had recently signed on as a contract TV director there. Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels.”
Movies based on Crichton’s stories and screenplays were frequently financially successful: “Jurassic Park” remains the 13th highest grossing film in history, while “Twister” (which Crichton co-wrote) and “The Lost World” sit at Nos. 53 and 60 respectively.
“Michael Crichton was a modern-day Renaissance man,” said NBC Universal prexy Jeff Zucker. “He was a physician, writer, director and producer — few people have done so many things so well. As creator and producer of NBC’s ‘ER,’ he helped change the face of televised drama.”
Early in his career, Crichton directed his own screenplays, including 1979 Sean Connery starrer “The First Great Train Robbery,” which he wrote, directed and adapted from his own novel; and 1973’s “Westworld.” He was also director and screenwriter of “Coma,” based on the Robin Cook novel.
Born in Chicago, Crichton was raised in Roslyn, Long Island, N.Y., and graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1964. In a decision that would inform much of his writing, he chose to attend Harvard Medical School and obtained his medical doctorate in 1969. Throughout his education, he wrote under various pseudonyms, including Jeffery Hudson, the name that appears on “A Case of Need.” The writer was uncommonly tall at 6 feet 9 inches. He married five times and divorced four.
In his later years, Crichton broke with popular opinion on the subject of global warming, addressing what he saw as hysteria around the issue in his 2004 novel “State of Fear.” Perhaps because of similar views on the topic, Crichton was also one of the few novelists to get along well with President Bush.
Crichton’s stories often chronicled disaster and systematic breakdown, frequently using a big, action-packed narrative like the rampaging dinosaurs of “Jurassic Park” to explain such complicated concepts as chaos theory. In person and in print, Crichton advocated for the literary merits of science fiction writers, leaping to the defense of writer Kurt Vonnegut in the pages of the New Republic.
Published by HarperCollins since his 2002 thriller “Prey,” Crichton was working on another novel during the illness before his death. HarperCollins’ Jonathan Burnham said it was unknown whether the book could be published posthumously, since the writer never discussed his work before it was completed. “He was truly a unique talent,” Burnham said. “A visionary thinker, a writer whose range of intellectual passion and curiosity was vast and a great and generous entertainer.”
He is survived by his wife, Sherri, and daughter Taylor.