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Obituaries

Science fiction writer Harlan Ellison dies aged 84

Influential award-winning author successfully sued after claiming The Terminator film was his idea and once mailed hundreds of bricks to a publisher that didn’t pay him

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 5:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 7:58pm

The award-winning writer Harlan Ellison has died at the age of 84.

In his career, Ellison wrote over 1,800 short stories, screenplays, novellas, essays, critiques and teleplays, winning eight Hugo awards. His wife Susan confirmed the news via her friend Christina Valada on Twitter.

“Susan Ellison has asked me to announce the passing of writer Harlan Ellison, in his sleep, earlier today,” she tweeted. “‘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 most notable work includes the short story A Boy and His Dog in 1969, which was later made into a film starring Don Johnson, and the controversial Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever. He was also the editor of the cult sci-fi anthologies Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions.

Born in Ohio in 1934, Ellison later served in the army, an experience he found distasteful. “Being in the army is like being in prison,” Ellison said in 2013. “You are not your own person. You are constrained 24/7. You are told what to do. They keep you in your place. You are not allowed to have an awful lot of self-respect, or pride of place, or pride of self.”

He started to sell short stories to magazines and after moving to California in the 60s, and gained a job with Disney but was fired after one day after he was overheard joking about making a porn film with Disney characters.

He wrote the 1966 big screen drama The Oscar and sold scripts for episodes of shows including The Man from UNCLE and The Outer Limits. His Star Trek episode was a bone of contention, however, when the show’s creator Gene Roddenberry insisted on rewrites, and in 2009, Ellison sued CBS seeking revenue from merchandising. The case was settled out of court.

In his life, he was also involved in a lawsuit against Orion Pictures after claiming that The Terminator drew ideas from an Outer Limits episode he wrote. It was settled out of court and a credit was added. He also filed a lawsuit against ABC and Paramount claiming that the series Future Cop was based on a story of his, winning US$337,000.

“I think any writer who gives away his work demeans himself, demeans the craft, demeans the art, and demeans the buyer,” he said. “It is not only caveat emptor, it is caveat lector. I don’t mean to be crude when I say this, but I won’t take a piss unless I’m paid properly.”

Ellison once reportedly mailed 213 bricks to a publisher who would not pay him and a dead gopher to another.

“As Spider-Man says: ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’” he said to Writer’s Digest in 2004. “Well, in my case, with fearlessness comes great stupidity. I’m just not afraid of things. There’s nothing anybody could do to me that would make me afraid.”

He also acted as a conceptual consultant on Babylon 5 and a creative consultant on the 1980s iteration of The Twilight Zone. He was awarded four Writers Guild of America awards and the Silver Pen for Journalism. Ellison’s life inspired the book A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison and the documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth, which featured interviews with Robin Williams and Neil Gaiman.

Tributes have been paid to Ellison on Twitter, from figures including Stephen King and Patton Oswalt.