Marvel Veteran Recalls His Final Saturday With Stan Lee

Former editor-in-chief Roy Thomas talked Spider-Man with the comic book creator and showed him photos from a forthcoming biography: "He was still talking about doing more cameos."
Courtesy of Roy Thomas
Stan Lee with Roy Thomas on Nov. 10.

Roy Thomas was hired by Stan Lee in 1965 and succeeded him as Marvel editor-in-chief in 1972 when Lee became the publisher. Two days before Lee's death on Monday, Thomas spent one last Saturday visiting with his former boss and longtime friend.

When Stan first moved to California in the early '80s, he invited my wife and me to the place where he was staying before he bought his house. It was some rented place on the Westside with marble floors. At one point he excused himself, and he came back on roller skates. I don't know if the people who owned the place appreciated him roller-skating on their marble floor. I'd never seen anyone roller-skating on a marble floor.

I was just with Stan on Saturday. It was arranged a week earlier for me to come from back east. I was told Stan said he didn't want to see anybody, but when they mentioned my name, he said, "I'd like to see Roy." Which was very flattering. I was just with him for half an hour, less than 48 hours before he passed away. He was on the sofa, facing the swimming pool, had kind of a view. He was nattily dressed and so forth. He just didn't have the energy that he had the last time I saw him. He looked frail, but he could get around when he needed to.

He seemed to be glad to see me. It was something different from the usual round of his life, the last few months as his health failed him. He asked about the Spider-Man comic book strip that I've been ghostwriting for 18, 19 years. Until a couple of years ago, he was working on it with me. 

Somehow the subject of [Marvel publisher and Lee's uncle] Martin Goodman came up. He didn't look for excuses to say unkind things about people. But the last few decades of his life, he would go into a shorthand version of how "Martin thought people wouldn't like spiders" and "a kid can't be a hero." He got out his feelings. I told him, "I think the last big creative decision Martin Goodman ever made was when he told you to make up a superhero group. After that, I thought he could get out of the way." Stan thought that was good.

We had a copy of the new book that was just coming out, The Stan Lee Story, which I wrote for the publisher Taschen. Stan had glaucoma at this stage in his life. We were looking at the book and talking about some of the images in it. He said he'd have to see if he could hook up his magnifying glass and everything and take a look at it. For the book, we found pictures of people he's talked about for years but nobody had ever seen a picture of. We found a picture of this teacher that he liked so much that he was always talking about. We had to put a pillow on his legs because that book is so heavy. Then we opened it up. That gave us the chance to discuss some stuff, and we paged through a few things.

 

I think he was ready to go. But he was still talking about doing more cameos. As long as he had the energy for it and didn't have to travel, Stan was always up to do some more cameos. He got a kick out of those more than anything else.

A version of this story appears in the Nov. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.