Richard Matheson, novelist and screenwriter whose high-concept stories and novels were favorites for adapting into films such as “I Am Legend,” died on Sunday at his home in Calabasas, Calif, according to his publisher. He was 87 and had been ill for some time.
As well as creating source material for films including “What Dreams May Come,” “Real Steel,” “A Stir of Echoes” and “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” Matheson was a prolific film and TV scribe. He was responsible for some of the most popular “Twilight Zone” episodes as well as writing for nearly every other anthology series of the 1960s and 70s with credits including “Lawman,” “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “Amazing Stories” and “Star Trek” episode “The Enemy Within.”
For “Twilight Zone,” Matheson wrote the classic William Shatner episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” The Hugh Jackman film “Real Steel” was adapted from his “Twilight Zone” episode “Steel.” Matheson also wrote both the novel and screenplay for Christopher Reeves’ time travel film “Somewhere in Time.” Among his other screenplays were “Jaws 3-D” and 1959’s “Beat Generation.”
Numerous sci-fi, horror and fantasy writers and filmmakers were influenced by Matheson’s work, including Stephen King, who called him “the author who influenced me most as a writer” and George Romero, who said the vampires that appeared in the Vincent Price version of “I Am Legend” served as inspiration for the zombies in “Night of the Living Dead.”
His short story “Duel” was the basis for Steven Spielberg’s first feature-length film as a TV movie, and he won an Edgar award for his screenplay for “The Night Stalker,” one of two TV movies that preceded the category “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.”
Born in Allendale, N.J., he was raised in Brooklyn and served as an infantry soldier during WWII.
He is survived by his wife Ruth Ann and four children, three of whom (Chris, Richard Christian and Ali Matheson) are writers.