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    Richard Matheson, 87; wrote ‘I Am Legend,’ ‘Shrinking Man’

    Richard Matheson
    Beatrice de Gea/Los Angeles Times/file 2004
    Richard Matheson

    LOS ANGELES — Richard Matheson, the prolific science fiction and fantasy writer whose ‘‘I Am Legend’’ and ‘‘The Shrinking Man’’ were transformed into films, has died.

    Mr. Matheson died Sunday in Los Angeles at 87.

    With a career spanning more than 60 years, Mr. Matheson crafted stories that deftly transitioned from the page to both the big and small screens. Several of his works were adapted into films, including 1953’s ‘‘Hell House,’’ 1956’s ‘‘The Shrinking Man,’’ 1958’s ‘‘A Stir of Echoes’’ and 1978’s ‘‘What Dreams May Come.’’


    Mr. Matheson’s 1954 science fiction vampire novel ‘‘I Am Legend’’ inspired three film adaptations: 1964’s ‘‘The Last Man on Earth’’ starring Vincent Price, 1971’s ‘‘Omega Man’’ with Charlton Heston, and 2007’s ‘‘I Am Legend’’ starring Will Smith.

    Cayuga Productions
    Mr. Matheson wrote well known “Twilight Zone” episodes, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “The Nick of Time” with William Shatner and Patricia Breslin (pictured).
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    Mr. Matheson was also responsible for writing several episodes of ‘‘The Twilight Zone,’’ as well as editions of ‘‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,’’ “The Martian Chronicles,’’ and ‘‘Amazing Stories.’’ His ‘‘Twilight Zone’’ installments included ‘‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,’’ which featured William Shatner as an airplane passenger who spots a creature on a wing, as well as ‘‘Steel,’’ which inspired the 2011 film ‘‘Real Steel’’ starring Hugh Jackman.

    ‘‘I loved Richard Matheson’s writing, and it was a huge honor getting to adapt his story ‘Button, Button’ into a film,’’ posted ‘‘Donnie Darko’’director Richard Kelly on Twitter.

    Mr. Matheson influenced several generations of storytellers. Among them were Stephen King, who dedicated his 2006 novel ‘‘Cell’’ to Matheson, and Steven Spielberg, whose first feature-length film was the made-for-TV movie ‘‘Duel,’’ based on the Mr. Matheson short story of the same name.

    ‘‘Richard Matheson’s ironic and iconic imagination created seminal science-fiction stories and gave me my first break when he wrote the short story and screenplay for ‘Duel,’ ” Spielberg said. ‘‘His ‘Twilight Zones’ were among my favorites, and he recently worked with us on ‘Real Steel.’ For me, he is in the same category as [Ray] Bradbury and [Isaac] Asimov.’’


    Mr. Matheson was scheduled to receive the visionary award at the Academy of Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Films’ Saturn Awards on Wednesday. The organization said the award will be presented posthumously and the 39th annual ceremony would be dedicated to Mr. Matheson.

    ‘‘We are heartbroken to lose a writer of towering talent, unlimited imagination, and unparalleled inspiration,’’ said Robert Holguin, the academy’s president. ‘‘Richard was a genius whose visions helped bring legitimacy and critical acclaim to science fiction and fantasy. He was also a longtime supporter of the academy, and everyone associated with the Saturn Awards feels emptier today.’’

    Mr. Matheson leaves his wife and four children.