I Am Richard Matheson: Brooklyn-Born Grandfather of Zombie Apocalypse Dies at 87

Science Fiction writer Richard Matheson, 1926-2013. (Photo via JaSunni

Science Fiction writer Richard Matheson, 1926-2013. (Photo via JaSunni

Richard Matheson wasn’t mad when George Romero took him out to lunch after the release of 1968’s Night of the Living Dead and told the author he had straight-up stole his story, I Am Legend, for the plot of his zombie classic. Mr. Matheson, born and raised in Brooklyn (he graduated Brooklyn Technical High School in 1943), passed away at age 87 on Sunday; a science fiction writer who was most famous for his 1956 book The Shrinking Man despite a prolific sci-fi, horror and fantasy career. In addition to I Am Legend, he wrote the novel What Dreams May Come, co-wrote the screenplay for Stephen King’s first cinematic foray, Duel (Matheson was tapped by Spielberg himself), and is responsible for the famous William Shatner Twilight Zone episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

According to a 2007 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Matheson recalled the incident with Romero no hard feelings:

“The first thing he said to me, putting his arms up as if I was abut to strike him, [was], ‘Didn’t make any money from Night of the Living Dead,'” Matheson recalled. “‘Homage’ means I get to steal you work. He’s a nice guy, though. I don’t harbor any animosity toward him.” (Romero later confirmed this story: “I confessed to him that I basically ripped the idea off from I Am Legend. He forgave me because we didn’t make any money. He said, ‘Well, as long as you didn’t get rich, it’s okay.'”)

Although I Am Legend, which was later adapted into a film starring Will Smith, deals more the fallout of a vampiric apocalypse, Mr. Matheson is well-credited as being the grandfather of the End of the World: Zombie Edition scenarios, as most recently brought to the big screen in Brad Pitt’s World War Z.

Matheson’s son posted a tribute to his father on his Facebook page yesterday evening:

Thank you all for the outpouring of love. My father passed peacefully at home yesterday, at 5:22PM, surrounded by love, family and soft music. As monumental as he is as a writer, he was every bit that as a husband, father, grandfather and friend. He was my hero and my best friend and I loved him deeply. I will miss him forever. I know we all will.