Sci-Fi Author Crichton Passes

Author of “Jurasic Park” and “Andromeda Strain” succumbs to cancer

Though Michael Crichton ’64 already cut an imposing figure at 6’9”, he still took an extra inch when possible to distinguish himself from the crowd.

“Michael always liked to stand with his heels on the fireplace so that he could get up a couple more inches above everybody else,” said Joseph W. Esherick ’64, Crichton’s freshman year roommate.

Though the pair differed in academic interests—Crichton studied physical anthropology and Esherick studied Chinese studies—Esherick said he “always thought we were put together as freshmen by height.” The three residents of Weld 17 were all over 6’4”, with Crichton standing the tallest.

The kid known as tallest in class would graduate from Harvard Medical School and become known for writing best-selling science fiction novels on topics ranging from dinosaurs recreated from DNA to extraterrestrial spherical artifacts, eventually emerging as a strident popular critic of the science behind global warming.

Crichton died unexpectedly after a private battle against throat cancer in Los Angeles on Tuesday. He was 66.

Esherick, who had not seen Crichton for a decade, said he heard the news on the radio yesterday morning and that he had been unaware of Crichton’s illness.

Esherick, who is now a professor of Chinese studies at the University of California, San Diego, said Crichton was an “incredibly smart guy” who did not have the patience for “scholarly type of smarts.”

Instead, he pursued cosmopolitan interests, including movies, arts, and popular culture. Esherick and Crichton would always have dinner together in Lowell House before Crichton would run off to The Crimson to write movie reviews.

Former Crimson editorial chair Robert W. Gordon ’63 said Crichton possessed a “bit of knowledge about everything,” displaying his versatility by writing for both editorial and news.

“He was a master of all the disciplines,” added Gordon, now a professor at Yale Law School.

Upon graduation, Crichton became a traveling fellow and visiting lecturer in anthropology at the University of Cambridge. In 1969, he obtained an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, after which he completed a post-doctoral fellowship study at the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

To support himself through medical school, Crichton wrote medical thrillers under pseudonyms such as Jeffrey Hudson. But when his 1969 book “A Case of Need” won that year’s Edgar Award for Best Novel, Crichton’s cover of anonymity was blown.

Crichton’s part-time job soon became his lucrative livelihood; heavily influenced by his medical training, Crichton’s unique brand of science thriller has sold over 150 million copies worldwide.

Thirteen of his novels have been adapted into high-grossing films. After the movie version of his book “Jurassic Park” brought in over $914 million, a newly-discovered dinosaur was named “Crichton’s ankylosaur” in his honor.

Crichton also created the Emmy Award-winning medical drama series “ER” and wrote and directed several films.

Despite his popular appeal, Crichton courted controversy through his outspoken skepticism of the existence of climate change, as evinced in his lectures and his 2004 novel “State of Fear.”

Ever the inquisitive student, Crichton said in a 2004 interview, “I’m very uncomfortable just accepting. There’s something in me that wants to pound the table and say, ‘That’s not true.’”

A new novel by Crichton that had been tentatively due for next month was postponed indefinitely because of his illness, according to publisher HarperCollins.

Crichton is survived by his fifth wife and only child. A private funeral service will be held.

In a statement, his family said, “While the world knew him as a great story teller that challenged our preconceived notions about the world around us—and entertained us all while doing so—his wife Sherri, daughter Taylor, family and friends knew Michael Crichton as a devoted husband, loving father and generous friend who inspired each of us to strive to see the wonders of our world through new eyes.”

“He did this with a wry sense of humor that those who were privileged to know him personally will never forget,” the statement added.

—Staff Writer Esther I. Yi can be reached at estheryi@fas.harvard.edu.