Ray Bradbury, author of 'Fahrenheit 451,' dies

Associated Press Modified: June 6, 2012 at 5:46 pm •  Published: June 6, 2012
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It was Bradbury's only true science-fiction work, according to the author, who said all his other works should have been classified as fantasy. "It was a book based on real facts and also on my hatred for people who burn books," he told The Associated Press in 2002.

A futuristic classic often taught alongside George Orwell's "1984" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," Bradbury's novel also anticipated today's world of iPods, interactive television, electronic surveillance and live, sensational media events.

Francois Truffaut directed a 1966 movie version and the book's title was referenced — without Bradbury's permission, the author complained — for Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Although involved in many futuristic projects, including the New York World's Fair of 1964 and the Spaceship Earth display at Walt Disney World in Florida, Bradbury was deeply attached to the past. He refused to drive a car and shunned flying, saying a fatal traffic accident he witnessed as a child left him with a lifelong fear of automobiles. In his younger years he got around by bicycle or roller-skates.

Bradbury's literary style was honed in pulp magazines and influenced by Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, and he became the rare science fiction writer treated seriously by the literary world.

In 2007, he received a special Pulitzer Prize citation. Seven years earlier, he received an honorary National Book Award medal for lifetime achievement, an honor given to Philip Roth and Arthur Miller among others.

Other honors included an Academy Award nomination for an animated film, "Icarus Montgolfier Wright," and an Emmy for his teleplay of "The Halloween Tree." His fame extended to the moon, where Apollo astronauts named a crater "Dandelion Crater," in honor of "Dandelion Wine," his beloved coming-of-age novel.

Born Ray Douglas Bradbury on Aug. 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Ill., the author once described himself as "that special freak, the man with the child inside who remembers all." He claimed to have total recall of his life, dating even to his final weeks in his mother's womb.

His father, Leonard, a power company lineman, was a descendant of Mary Bradbury, who was tried for witchcraft at Salem, Mass. The author's mother, Esther, read him the "Wizard of Oz." His Aunt Neva introduced him to Edgar Allan Poe and gave him a love of autumn.

His childhood nightmares stocked his imagination, as did his youthful delight with the Buck Rogers and Tarzan comic strips, early horror films, Tom Swift adventure books and the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. He sold his first story in 1941 and published his first book, a short story collection called "Dark Carnival" in 1947.

Bradbury was so poor during those years that he didn't have an office or even a telephone. He wrote "Fahrenheit 451" at the UCLA library, on typewriters that rented for 10 cents a half hour. He said he carried a sack full of dimes and completed the book in nine days, at a cost of $9.80.

Although some academics doubted that account, saying he could not have created such a masterpiece in such a rapid, seemingly cavalier fashion, Bradbury maintained in several interviews with the AP over the years that that was exactly how he did it.

Until near the end of his life, Bradbury resisted one of the innovations he helped anticipate: electronic books, likening them to burnt metal and urging readers to stick to the old-fashioned pleasures of ink and paper.

In late 2011, as the rights to "Fahrenheit 451" were up for renewal, he gave in and allowed his most famous novel to come out in digital form. In return, he received a great deal of money and a special promise from Simon & Schuster.

The publisher agreed to make the e-book available to libraries, the only Simon & Schuster e-book at the time that library patrons could download.

A dynamic speaker with a booming, distinctive voice, Bradbury could be blunt and gruff, but he was also a gregarious and friendly man, approachable in public and often generous with his time to readers as well as fellow writers.

In 2009, at a lecture celebrating the first anniversary of a small library in Southern California's San Gabriel Valley, he exhorted his listeners to live their lives as he said he had lived his: "Do what you love and love what you do."

"If someone tells you to do something for money, tell them to go to hell," he shouted to raucous applause.

Bradbury is survived by his four daughters, Susan Nixon, Ramona Ostergren, Bettina Karapetian and Alexandra Bradbury. Marguerite Bradbury, his wife of 57 years, died in 2003.

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Associated Press writer Robert Jablon contributed to this report.

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