'I Am Legend' writer Richard Matheson's legacy of smart sci-fi

Science fiction writer Richard Matheson passed away Sunday at age 87. Novelist and writer for film and television, Matheson had a long and storied career that saw him influence multiple generations of writers working in a broad cross-section of genre storytelling. Author Stephen King famously declared Matheson his greatest influence as a writer

A broad range of films has been adapted from his works. His novel "I Am Legend" alone provided the basis for the 2007 Will Smith movie of the same name but also 1971's "The Omega Man" with Charlton Heston and 1964's "The Last Man on Earth" with Vincent Price.

Matheson also wrote the short story and screenplay that became the basis for Steven Spielberg's early film "Duel."

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"Richard Matheson's ironic and iconic imagination created seminal science-fiction stories and gave me my first break,'" Spielberg said in a statement released Monday. "For me, he is in the same category as Bradbury and Asimov."

Matheson was to have received a special honor  Wednesday at the Saturn Awards presented by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. The event will now be dedicated to him.

Matheson adapted numerous Edgar Allan Poe stories for Roger Corman, including "The Raven," "House of Usher" and "The Pit and the Pendulum."

His short story "Button, Button" -- in which a mysterious offer is made to a couple for pushing a button, knowing it will cause someone somewhere in the world to die -- was adapted by filmmaker Richard Kelly into the 2009 film "The Box" starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden and Frank Langella.

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Other writings by Matheson became films that included "What Dreams May Come," "Stir of Echoes," "The Incredible Shrinking Man," and "The Legend of Hell House."

Among his numerous episodes of "The Twilight Zone" are some of the series' most iconic and enduring, including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" starring William Shatner and a gremlin atop the wing of an airplane. The Hugh Jackman boxing robot film "Real Steel" was based on Matheson's "Twilight" episode "Steel." Matheson wrote for the original "Star Trek" series and created the series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker."

On his Twitter page, director Kelly wrote on Monday, "I loved Richard Matheson's writing and it was a huge honor getting to adapt his story 'Button, Button' into a film."

Producer and director Corman posted, "Richard Matheson was a close friend and the best screenwriter I ever worked with. I always shot his first draft. I will miss him."

Also taking to Twitter, filmmaker Joe Dante declared of Matheson, "He was a giant."

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