Legendary science fiction writer Harlan Ellison has died at the age of 64. Deadline reports that the news came through a tweet from long-time family friend Christine Valada.
“Susan Ellison has asked me to announce the passing of writer Harlan Ellison, in his sleep, earlier today. “For a brief time I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered.”—HE, 1934-2018. Arrangements for a celebration of his life are pending.”
Ellison’s contribution to science fiction is enormous. According to his website Ellison Webderland, he wrote or edited 75 books and wrote over 1,700 stories, essays, articles, and newspaper columns, 24 teleplays, and 12 motion pictures. He won multiple Hugo awards, Nebula awards, Bram Stoker awards, Edgar Allan Poe awards of the Mystery Writers of America, Georges Melies fantasy film awards, and Audie Awards. These are just some of his highly influential works and recognition or awards he received for his work during his lifetime. The magnitude of his work is breathtaking.
Among Harlan’s best-known works are A Boy and His Dog that was published in 1969 and turned into a feature film in 1975. It became a cult classic and starred Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame. He also authored a short story collection titled Shatterday. Published in 1980, the title story in the collection would become the basis for the first episode of the 1985 reboot of the television series The Twilight Zone. He served as consultant on the series. The story “Jeffty is Five” that’s part of the Shatterday collection won a Nebula award and a Hugo award as well as an online poll of Locus (a science fiction and fantasy fiction) readers as the best short story of all time.
Ellison was also known for his personality. Variety quotes the L.A. Times as describing him as “fiercely independent, proudly elitist, frequently angry, tenacious and downright vengeful.” He didn’t like Hollywood who he said thought writers were “madmen.”
Harlan Ellison wrote for many television shows including Route 66, The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The 1967 Star Trek episode titled “The City on the Edge of Forever” was written by Harlan and is often cited as the best episode of the series, although Ellison was famously unhappy with the end product that didn’t reflect the anti-war message he wanted to convey. He was so unhappy with it that he and Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry fought over it for two years. He sued in 2009 and won an out-of-court settlement from CBS Paramount Television for an undisclosed amount.
Ellison won $337,000 in another lawsuit in which he charged ABC and Paramount Studios with copyright infringement. Ellison co-authored a short story with Ben Bova (“Brillo”). After being asked to develop it for ABC, the option lapsed and Ellison took it to Paramount who showed no interest. Paramount later produced a show that aired on ABC titled Future Cop with a character identical to the one in Ellison and Bova’s story.
He filed a third lawsuit against James Cameron who he claimed based the Terminator movie on two episodes of The Outer Limits. That suit was settled out of court and required that Harlan Ellison’s name be listed in the credits. James Cameron referred to him as “a parasite.”
Ellison was born to the only Jewish family in Painesville, Ohio, and said he had to physically defend himself every day they lived there. He was a student at Ohio State for 18 months and served in the Army. Harlan was hired by Walt Disney Studios but lost that job on his first day because he made “highly irreverent suggestions” about some Disney characters. Ellison was married five times, at least two of which lasted weeks or months, but had no children.