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Obituary: Michael Crichton

Obituary by Jack Foley

JURASSIC Park author Michael Crichton has died at the age of 66 following a “courageous and private battle against cancer”.

The tragic news was announced by his family on Wednesday (November 5, 2008) when they said in a statement: “He will be profoundly missed by those whose lives he touched.”

Crichton’s books have sold more than 150 million copies and been turned into many popular movies. Among his most famous are Twister, Congo and the Jurassic Park trilogy – the latter of which were turned into one of the most successful film franchises of all-time by Steven Spielberg.

On TV, Crichton also created the long-running US hospital drama ER, which is due to come to a close at the end of its 15th series next year (2009).

The family’s statement went on to pay tribute to a “devoted husband, loving father and generous friend”, adding: “Through his books, Michael Crichton served as an inspiration to students of all ages, challenged scientists in many fields, and illuminated the mysteries of the world in a way we could all understand.”

Born in Chicago in 1942, Crichton was the eldest of four children. He subsequently grew up in Roslyn, New York, and was the son of a journalist.

Although he always saw writing as a natural occupation to pursue, and was actively encouraged by his father to do so, Crichton quit studying English at Harvard University in order to travel around Europe.

He later returned to Massachusetts to study medicine at Harvard Medical School but gave that up in the early 1970s to pursue his first passion.

Crichton’s first bestseller, The Andromeda Strain, was published in 1969 and prompted the author to move to California, where he began working as a director and also pursued a career as an actor.

Alas, his only acting role came in 1971’s The Andromeda Strain, in which he played an uncredited surgeon – although he had been due to appear in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth in a role that later went to pop legend David Bowie.

Crichton continued to pursue his passion for movies, though, directing adaptations of his own novels and landing his breakthrough in 1973 with the cult sci-fi movie Westworld, about a rogue cowboy robot (played by Yul Brynner) who begins terrorising tourists at a theme park.

He also had another success with his involvement in the 1978 thriller Coma, about a hospital that kills patients in order to harvest organs.

Thereafter, some of Hollywood’s big name directors sought the rights to his novels to continue turning them into films, while Crichton’s own background in medicine helped to inform the TV series ER, as well as another book/film Disclosure, which was based on an actual case of male sexual harassment.

In his personal life, Crichton also managed to attract headlines. He was divorced four times and, in 2002, was the victim of a home robbery in Santa Monica, California, when he was tied up and robbed at gunpoint.

In 2004, he also courted controversy when his novel, State of Fear, suggested that global warming was a fallacy dreamt up by environmental activists.

Crichton is survived by his wife, Sherri, and daughter, Taylor. A private funeral service is expected to commemorate his life.

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