Michael Crichton, whose technological thrillers such as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park dominated best-seller lists for decades and were translated into Hollywood mega hits, died on Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 66 and lived in Santa Monica, California.
Michael Crichton 1942—2008 Jim Cooper / AP
A statement released by his family gave the cause as cancer.
A doctor by training—he also created the hit television series ER—Crichton used fiction to explore the moral and political problems posed by modern technology and scientific breakthroughs, which in his books defied human control or ended up as tools used for evil ends. In his fictional worlds, human greed, hubris and the urge to dominate were just as powerful as the most advanced computers.
Crichton’s fast-paced narratives often involved the arcana of medical technology, computer science, chaos theory or genetic engineering. But by combining old-fashioned storytelling with up-to-date, gee-whiz science, the books made for a compelling formula that was adapted easily by Hollywood. His books sold in the tens of millions and almost routinely became movies, many of them blockbusters such as Jurassic Park, its sequel The Lost World, as well as Rising Sun. Reviewers often complained that Crichton’s characters were wooden, that his ear for dialogue was tin and that his science was suspect. Environmentalists raged against his sceptical views on climate change, first expressed in the 2004 novel, State of Fear, and subsequently in various public forums. Even his severest critics, however, confessed to being seduced by his plots and unable to resist turning the pages, rapidly.
“He had a ferocious, brilliant intellect and the ability to write entertaining narratives,” said Lynn Nesbitt, his agent since The Andromeda Strain. “I can’t think of many writers who can match that.”
John Michael Crichton was born in Chicago, the oldest of four children, and grew up in Roslyn, on Long Island. His father was the editor of Advertising Age and later president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
At Harvard, after a professor criticized his writing style, the younger Crichton changed his major from English to anthropology and graduated summa cum laude (with highest distinction) in 1964. He then spent a year teaching anthropology on a fellowship at Cambridge University. In 1966 he entered Harvard’s medical school and began writing on the side to help pay tuition.
Under the pseudonym John Lange he wrote eight thrillers. Under the name Jeffery Hudson, he wrote A Case of Need (1968), a medical detective novel that revolved around the moral issues posed by abortion. It won an Edgar Award for best novel.
In 1969, after earning his medical degree, Crichton moved to La Jolla, California, and spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
Already inclining toward a writing career, he tilted decisively with The Andromeda Strain, a medical thriller about a group of scientists trying to stop the spread of a lethal organism from outer space.
With a breakneck, suspenseful plot that played out against a carefully researched scientific setting, the novel—he was now writing under his own name—became an enormous best-seller and a successful 1971 Hollywood film, a pattern that was to be repeated many times in the years to come. More than a dozen of Crichton’s novels were made into movies, and he turned his hand to directing, screenwriting and producing for film and television along the way.
Crichton is survived by his wife, Sherri Alexander, and by a daughter, Taylor.
©2008/The New York Times