Michael Crichton, writer and director, dies at 66

One-time physician became author of best-selling thrillers

November 06, 2008|By Dennis McLellan | Dennis McLellan,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES - Michael Crichton, the doctor-turned-author of best-selling thrillers such as The Terminal Man and Jurassic Park and a Hollywood writer and director whose credits include Westworld and Coma, has died. He was 66.

Dr. Crichton died in Los Angeles on Tuesday "after a courageous and private battle against cancer," his family said in a statement.

For nearly four decades, the 6-foot-9 writer was a towering presence in the worlds of publishing and filmmaking.

"There was no one like Crichton, because he could both entertain and educate," Lynn Nesbit, Dr. Crichton's agent since the late 1960s, told the Los Angeles Times yesterday. "His brilliance was indisputable, and he had a grasp of so many subjects - from art to science to technology.

"I respected him so much intellectually and as a writer. I loved him. It's like losing a very good friend as well as a client of so many years."

Director Steven Spielberg in a statement yesterday said, "Michael's talent out-scaled even his own dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the Earth."

Dr. Crichton was still in Harvard Medical School when he wrote his first best-seller, The Andromeda Strain, a fast-paced scientifically and technologically detailed 1969 thriller about a team of scientists attempting to save mankind from a deadly microorganism brought to Earth by a military satellite. It was made into a movie in 1971.

With his success at writing thrillers, Dr. Crichton abandoned medicine to become a full-time writer whose novels in the 1970s and 1980s included The Terminal Man, The Great Train Robbery, Eaters of the Dead, Congo and Sphere.

Dr. Crichton made his feature film directing debut in 1973 with Westworld, which he also wrote, about a fantasy theme park for wealthy vacationers whose fun is spoiled when malfunctioning androids turn deadly.

He directed five other movies in the 1970s and 1980s, including Coma, The Great Train Robbery, Looker, Runaway and Physical Evidence.

As a novelist, Dr. Crichton came back stronger than ever in the 1990s with best-sellers such as Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, Disclosure, The Lost World, Airframe and Timeline.

During the same decade, he co-wrote the screenplay for Jurassic Park, the 1993 Spielberg-directed blockbuster hit; and he co-wrote the screenplay for the 1996 action-thriller Twister with his fourth wife, actress Anne-Marie Martin, with whom he had a daughter, Taylor.

Dr. Crichton also created ER, the long-running NBC medical drama that made its debut in 1994 and became the No. 1-rated series the next year.

Dubbed "The Hit Man" by Time magazine in a 1995 cover story chronicling his "golden touch," Dr. Crichton had more than 100 million copies of his books in print at the time.

Indeed, the prolific writer who closely guarded his private life had become a dominant figure in popular culture.

Known for his intellectual curiosity, energy and drive, Dr. Crichton was a self-described workaholic.

"He works hard," Anne-Marie Martin told Vanity Fair in 1994. "Toward the end of a book it's like living with a body and Michael is somewhere else. Then, when the book's finished, Michael comes back."

When he wasn't writing fiction, Dr. Crichton periodically turned to nonfiction, including Jasper Johns, a 1977 portrait of the artist; and the 1988 autobiographical book Travels.

He also wrote a book on information technology, Electronic Life (1983), formed a small software company in the early 1980s, designed a computer game and shared a 1995 Academy Award for technical achievement for pioneering computerized motion picture budgeting and scheduling.

The eldest of four children, Dr. Crichton was born Oct. 23, 1942, in Chicago and grew up in Roslyn, N.Y.

He developed wide interests at an early age, he later said, recalling his mother taking her children to plays, museums, movies and concerts several times a week. His most recent novel, Next, which dealt with genetics and the law, was published in 2006.

A complete list of surviving family members, who include his fifth wife, Sherri, and daughter Taylor, was not available.

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