Edward Gorey, whose comically macabre stories, illustrations and theater set designs were once described by critic Edmund Wilson as “poisonous and poetic,” died Saturday at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Mass., after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. He was 75.
He wrote at least 90 books, illustrated 60 others and won a Tony Award in 1978 for his costume design for the Broadway production of “Dracula.” In the 1980s, his characters made the leap to television in the opening and closing titles of the PBS series “Mystery!”
Gorey’s stories, illustrated by line drawings in pen and ink, often showed vaguely Edwardian characters in bleak settings, reacting in prim distress to strange situations, such as the intrusion of a penguinlike, sneaker-wearing creature. The bizarre stories and illustrations reflected an elegantly macabre sense of humor.
“The Hapless Child,” for instance, is a tale of a little girl with nice parents who winds up — through a horrible series of misfortunes — being kept in bondage by a drunken brute until she finally escapes. No happy ending, though: She is run over by a carriage driven by her own father, and he doesn’t recognize her emaciated body.
His early work included a set of illustrations published in 1963 under the title “The Vinegar Works; Three Volumes of Moral Instruction.” They featured a grisly alphabet book, “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” in which “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil assaulted by bears, C is for Clara who wasted away, D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh…”
The book was included in “Amphigorey,” an anthology of 15 stories published in 1972 by Putnam, that brought Gorey’s work to a wider audience. It was followed by “Amphigorey Too” in 1974 and “Amphigorey Also” in 1983.
“To take my work seriously would be the height of folly,” Gorey told the Associated Press in 1994.
Gorey initially tried to be a novelist, but eventually came to produce the smaller books on which he built his career. He also designed sets and costumes for a number of theater productions and staged his own “Gorey Stories” in New York in 1978.
In the 1980s, Gorey moved to Cape Cod, where he led a small theater troupe that performed his works in plays and puppet shows.