A thought for Michael Crichton

I am sorry to be in a commemorative mode, but I can't let the day pass without saying something about Michael Crichton.

In the car this afternoon I turned on the radio and heard a news report ending ".... Crichton was 66." Was? That Michael Crichton has died in his 60s shocked me not simply because I'm now concentrating on the mortality of my father, in his 80s, but also because he always looked at least  20 years younger than his chronological age. I'd corresponded with him recently and didn't know he was sick.

Crichton had his enemies, especially after his recent anti-global-warming book (which I chose not to read). That he was married five times suggests that his personal life was not entirely tranquil. And he was hyper, hyper aware that in America he was regarded as a "genre" writer whereas in Italy, for example, he would be listed among the big names of Quality Lit.

But I was honored to have met him 20 years age, when I was living in Japan, and to have been a friend since then. He seemed unassuming, funny, charming in every way -- the unusual famous person who was genuinely considerate of one's spouse and kids. Very earnest about his political causes, including a very prescient argument fifteen years ago about the impending decline of the "Mediasaurus," now known as MSM. And, there is no way around it, incredibly talented. At one point in the 1990s, he was responsible for the #1-rated TV show (ER), the #1 box office movie (Jurassic Park), and the #1 best selling-novel -- and I'm not even sure now which of his novels it was. He must have been the only person in history to have paid his way through medical school by writing successful novels.

I loved hearing from him about oddball "practical" matters. For instance, height: he appeared to be nearly 7 feet tall, and explained to me (6'2") that up until 6'6" height was an advantage, but after that it was a big inconvenience -- door frames, beds, airplane seats. Or, getting ready for book writing bursts: He said he removed complications from his life while writing by having exactly the same food at every meal, so he never had to waste time deciding what to eat. He was a tech enthusiast, and the most passionate Mac advocate I have encountered.

He will be missed.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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