Harlan Ellison dies

Harlan Ellison. (Getty Images)

Acclaimed sci-fi tv and movie writer dies at 84.

Known as one of pop culture’s acclaimed outspoken writers, Harlan Ellison died Thursday at the age of 84. Born in Cleveland, Ellison died in his home in Los Angeles.

Ellison has written more than 1700 pieces of work, spanning novels, science fiction, comic books, short stories, screenplays, and television. His career brought him stops in New York and here in Chicago, where he was editor of Rogue magazine.

In 1962, Ellison headed out to California to launch a screenwriting career. Among the first shows he sold to was The Loretta Young Show and later sold scripts to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Route 66, The Man Of U.N.C.L.E, Circle Of Fear, Babylon 5, and the original versions of Burke’s Law and The Outer Limits. Ellison even penned a script for critically-panned sitcom The Flying Nun under the name “Cordwainer Bird”.

But his biggest breakthrough came in 1967 when he wrote the acclaimed Star Trek episode City On The Edge Of Forever. The script won the Writers Guild Award for best episodic drama in the television category. The shooting script of the same name won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Ellison’s last television credit was in an episode of 2007’s Masters Of Science Fiction.

Ellison’s acclaimed short story and non-fiction work included Reprent Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman; I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream; and A Boy And His Dog, later made into a 1975 film starring future Miami Vice star Don Johnson.

Ellison also was a voice-over artist, lending his voice to animated series such as Mother Goose and Grimm, The Pirates of Dark Water, and two episodes of Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated where he played himself.

Although Ellison won respect for a lot of fans and colleagues for his work, he often clashed with those who didn’t see his vision. For numerous years, Ellison criticized the changes made in the script of Forever made by Star Trek creator and executive producer Gene Roddenberry. Ellison once again used the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird, taking his name off the credits of the syndicated 1973 science fiction drama The Starlost after the producers changed his script for the pilot episode so much it wasn’t recognizable as Starlost was one of TV’s biggest bombs of the season. In 1985, CBS scrapped an episode he wrote for The New Twilight Zone after they found his story about a drunk who scared children about a malicious anti-Santa Claus too dark (he did however, go on to write three more episodes for the show.)

Despite his television work, Ellison was critical of the medium in two published essays on the subject. He noted “that to work in television is akin to putting in time in the Egyptian House of the Dead.”

Ellison also was involved in several lawsuits with studios over his work, including suing ABC and paramount in 1977 for plagiarizing he and Ben Bova’s short story Brillo as the basis for the short-lived series Future Cop. He also sued James Cameron for plagiarizing a 1964 Outer Limits episode he wrote as much of the story was used in Cameron’s film The Terminator. In 2006, he sued publisher Fantagraphics Books for defamation.

Ellison has won numerous awards for his writing. In addition to Forever, Ellison won ten more Hugo Awards, including The Deathbird and Dangerous Visions; won six Bram Stroker awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995; eighteen Locus Poll awards; four Writers Guild Awards; and five Nebula Awards, including being the only individual to be a three-time winner of the Nebula Award for Best Short Story.

Ellison is survived by his wife Susan, and has an official website but it has not been updated since 2012.

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