We knew it was coming, but the news hit us like a truck none the less. A very big truck.
Harlan Ellison, one of the truly great American writers and the man who put a red-hot edge on the word “curmudgeon,” died today at 84. He used his magnificent brain as an attack dog against all the evils he perceived – a staunch defender of our personal freedoms, most particularly and obviously the right to free expression – he knew the tricks of communication and used them like heat-seeking missiles, devastating the subjects of his wrath with his wit, knowledge, intelligence and attitude.
In fact, he did something that few others have been able to do: after many and frequent appearances on Bill Maher’s freewheeling television show, he was “banned” after he relentlessly tore into actor Fyvush Finkel’s defense of Elia Kazan, a brilliant director and actor who, during the McCarthy Era, ruined the careers of many of his fellow performers in front of the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee’s Communist witch hunt. To Harlan, as well as to a great many others, this was an unforgivable crime. Some 50 years after the event, it continued to burn a hole in Ellison’s soul.
I put the word banned in quotes because I do not believe Maher actually banned him per se; Harlan was just never asked back.
His shit-list was a Who’s Who of the arts and entertainment. I should know, I was on it for a while over a misunderstanding. I actually enjoyed the experience; Harlan’s brilliance was to be found in every word he uttered. Before long we buried the hatchet and he went on to say some truly nice things about me. Thinking back on that right now, I am sporting an ear-to-ear grin. His wrath was magnificent, and his friendship was as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.
He was a frequent attendee at science fiction, comic book and pop culture conventions – often as a fan and not an advertised guest. His love for these media was obvious and well-rewarded. Among his great many honors, Ellison received eight Hugo Awards, four Nebula Awards, five Bram Stoker Awards (from the Horror Writers Association), two Edgar Awards (from the Mystery Writers of America), two World Fantasy Award, and two Georges Méliès fantasy film awards.
To list his accomplishments would suck up all this young site’s available bandwidth. I’ll note he authored A Boy And His Dog, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, Repent Harlequin Said The Ticktock Man as well as numerous newspaper columns and works of non-fiction. He wrote for and was adapted by television shows such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Babylon 5, Star Trek (TOS), The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Burke’s Law… and The Flying Nun. He also authored numerous comic book stories and his works have been and will continue to be adapted for that medium.
He held humanity to its highest standards by holding our feet to the fire. Our planet has become a bit quieter with the passing of Harlan Ellison, to be sure. It also has become quite a bit less interesting.