Prolific Crichton blended science, showbiz


Michael Crichton, whose books were made into such eventful Hollywood films as "Jurassic Park" and "The Andromeda Strain," has died after a battle with cancer. He was 66.

The author's Web site said Wednesday that Crichton died "unexpectedly" Tuesday in Los Angeles.

"Michael's talent outscaled even his own dinosaurs of 'Jurassic Park,' " said Steven Spielberg, who directed the first two "Jurassic Park" films in the 1990s. "He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the earth."

Spielberg's relationship with Crichton began in the early '70s.

"In the early days, Michael had just sold 'The Andromeda Strain' to Robert Wise at Universal, and I had recently signed on as a contract TV director there," he recalled. "My first assignment was to show Michael Crichton around the Universal lot."

Their subsequent collaborations also included Spielberg serving as an executive producer on NBC's long-running medical series "ER," which Crichton created in 1994, and on "Twister," the effects-laden 1996 film that Crichton co-wrote and produced.

"Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels," Spielberg said. "There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place."

Despite his professional background and quiet demeanor, Crichton seemed to be a natural for the entertainment business. Once Hollywood took interest in his best-sellers, Crichton took considerable pains to immerse himself in the industry.

A year after his novel "Andromeda Strain" was adapted into a Wise-helmed film in 1971, Crichton directed first the telefilm "Pursuit" and then the 1973 movie "Westworld." A remake of "Westworld" is in active development at Warner Bros., with Billy Ray ("Shattered Glass") penning a screenplay and Jerry Weintraub producing.

A trained physician, Crichton's next film-directing credit came with 1978's medical thriller "Coma," for which he also adapted a screenplay based on Robin Cook's best-selling novel. In 1993, Crichton adapted his own literary work into the franchise-spawning "Jurassic."

Crichton's more controversial views included a skepticism about global warming, addressed in the 2004 novel "State of Fear" that was slammed by environmentalists. HarperCollins recently indefinitely postponed setting a publication date for Crichton's next book because of his illness.

John Wells, executive producer of "ER," called the author "an extraordinary man — brilliant, funny, erudite, gracious, exceptionally inquisitive and always thoughtful."

Added Wells: "No lunch with Michael lasted less than three hours, and no subject was too prosaic or obscure to attract his interest. Sexual politics, medical and scientific ethics, anthropology, archaeology, economics, astronomy, astrology, quantum physics and molecular biology were all regular topics of conversation."

Neal Baer, a physician who became an exec producer on "ER," was a fourth-year medical student at Harvard when longtime friend Wells sent him Crichton's script.

"I said, 'Wow, this is like my life.' " Baer recalled. "Michael had been a medical student at Harvard in the early '70s, and I was going through the same thing about 20 years later."

NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker called Crichton "a modern-day Renaissance man." Zucker said that as creator and producer of NBC's "ER," Crichton "helped change the face of televised drama."

A private funeral service is planned, but no further details were immediately available.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.