John Michael Crichton, M.D. or Michael Crichton pronounced /ˈkraɪtən/, (October 23, 1942 – November 4, 2008) was an American author, producer, director, screenwriter, and medical school graduate, best known for his work in the science fiction, medical fiction, and thriller genres. His books have sold over 150 million copies worldwide, and many have been adapted into films. In 1994 he became the only creative artist to ever have works simultaneously charting at #1 in television, as creator of ER; in film, with the adaptation of Jurassic Park; and in book sales, with Disclosure.
His literary works were usually based on the action genre and heavily feature technology. His novels epitomised the techno-thriller genre of literature, often exploring technology and failures of human interaction with it, especially resulting in catastrophes with biotechnology. Many of his future history novels have medical or scientific underpinnings, reflecting his medical training and science background. Among others, he was the author of The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Travels, Sphere, Rising Sun, Disclosure, The Lost World, Airframe, Timeline, Prey, State of Fear, Next (the final book published before his death), Pirate Latitudes (to be published November 24, 2009), and a final unfinished techno-thriller to be released sometime in the fall of 2010.
Early life and education
John Michael Crichton was born in Chicago, Illinois, to John Henderson Crichton, a journalist and Zula Miller Crichton on October 23, 1942. He was raised on Long Island, in Roslyn, New York, and had three siblings, two sisters, Kimberly and Catherine, and a younger brother, Douglas. Crichton showed a keen interest in writing from a young age and at the age of just 14 had a column related to travel published in the New York Times. Crichton had always planned on becoming a writer and commenced his studies at Harvard College in 1960. During his undergraduate study in literature, Crichton conducted an experiment to catch off guard a professor who he believed was giving him abnormally low marks and criticising his own literary style. Informing another professor of his suspicions, Crichton plagiarized a work by George Orwell and submitted it as his own. Unaware, the paper was received by his professor with a mark of "B−". His issues with the English Department led Crichton to switch his course to biological anthropology as an undergraduate, obtaining his bachelor's degree summa cum laude in 1964. Crichton was also initiated into the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He went on to become the Henry Russell Shaw Traveling Fellow from 1964 to 1965 and Visiting Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom in 1965.
Crichton later enrolled at Harvard Medical School when he began publishing work. By this time Crichton had become unusually tall. According to his own words, he was approximately 6 feet 9 inches (2.06 meters) tall in 1997. In reference to his height, while in medical school, he began writing novels under the pen names John Lange and Jeffery Hudson (Lange is a surname in Germany, meaning "long" and Sir Jeffrey Hudson was a famous 17th century dwarf in the court of Queen Consort Henrietta Maria of England). In Travels, he recalls overhearing unaware doctors discussing the flaws in The Andromeda Strain while he maintained anonymity in medical school. A Case of Need, written under the Hudson pseudonym, won him his first Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1969. He also co-authored Dealing with his younger brother Douglas under the shared pen name Michael Douglas. The back cover of that book contains a picture of Michael and Douglas at a very young age taken by their mother.
Crichton graduated from Harvard, obtaining an M.D. in 1969, and undertook a post-doctoral fellowship study at the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, from 1969 to 1970. In 1988, he was a Visiting Writer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Odds On was Michael Crichton's first published novel. It was released in 1966 under the pseudonym of John Lange. It is a short 215-page paperback novel which describes an attempt of robbery in an isolated hotel on Costa Brava. The robbery is planned scientifically with the help of a Critical Path Analysis computer program, but unforeseen events get in the way. The following year he published Scratch One. The novel relates the story of Roger Carr, a handsome, charming and privileged man who practices law, more as a means to support his playboy lifestyle than a career. Carr is sent to Nice, France where he has notable political connections, but is mistaken for an assassin and finds his life in jeopardy, implicated in the world of terrorism. In 1968 he published two novels, Easy Go and A Case of Need, the second of which was re-published in 1993 under his real name. Easy Go relates the story of Harold Barnaby, a brilliant Egyptologist who discovers a concealed message while translating hieroglyphics, informing him of an unnamed Pharaoh whose tomb is yet to be discovered. A Case of Need, on the other hand was a medical thriller in which a Boston pathologist, Dr. John Berry, investigates an apparent illegal abortion conducted by an obstretrician friend which caused the early demise of a young woman. The novel would prove a turning point in Crichton's future novels, in which technology is important in the subject matter, although this novel was as much about medical practice. The novel garnered him an Edgar Award in 1969.
In 1969 Crichton published three novels. The first, Zero Cool, dealt with an American radiologist on vacation in Spain who becomes caught in a murderous crossfire between rival gangs seeking a precious artifact. The second, The Andromeda Strain, would prove to be the important novel in his career that established him as a best selling author. The novel documenting the efforts of a team of scientists investigating a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism that fatally clots human blood, infecting the sufferer and causing death within two minutes. The microbe, code named "Andromeda", mutates with each growth cycle, changing its biologic properties. The novel became an instant success, and it was only two years before the novel was sought after by film producers and turned into the eponymous 1971 film under the directorship of Robert Wise and featuring Arthur Hill, James Olson, Kate Reid as Leavitt, and David Wayne. In September 2004, the Sci Fi Channel would announce a production of a miniseries, executive-produced by Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and Frank Darabont, premiering on May 26 2008. Crichton's third novel of 1969, The Venom Business relates the story of a smuggler who uses his exceptional skill as a snake handler to his advantage by smuggling snakes out of Mexico under the guise of medical research to be used by drug companies and universities for research. The snakes are simply a ruse to hide the identity of rare Mexican artifacts. In 1969 Crichton also wrote a review for the New Republic (as J. Michael Crichton), critiquing Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
In 1970 Crichton again published three novels: Drug of Choice, Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues and Grave Descend. Grave Descend earned him an Edgar Award nomination the following year.
In 1972 Crichton published two novels. The first, Binary relates the story of a villainous middle-class businessman who attempts to assassinate the President of the United States by stealing an army shipment of the two precursor chemicals that form a deadly nerve agent. The second, The Terminal Man is about a psychomotor epileptic sufferer, Harry Benson, who in regularly suffering seizures followed by blackouts, conducts himself inappropriately during seizures, waking up hours later with no knowledge of what he has done. Believed to be psychotic, he is investigated, electrodes are implanted in his brain, continuing the trend in Crichton's novels with machine-human interaction and technology. The novel was adapted into a film directed by Mike Hodges and starring George Segal, Joan Hackett, Richard A. Dysart and Donald Moffat, released in June 1974. However neither the novel nor the film were well received by critics.
In 1975, Crichton ventured into the nineteenth century with his historical novel The Great Train Robbery which would become a bestseller. The novel related a mild re-representation of the Great Gold Robbery of 1855, a massive gold heist, which takes place on a train traveling through Victorian era England. A considerable proportion of the book was set in London. The novel was later made into a 1979 film directed by Crichton himself, starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. The film would go on to be nominated for Best Cinematography Award by the British Society of Cinematographers, also garnering a nomination for Best Motion Picture by the Edgar Allan Poe award by the Mystery Writers Association of America.
In 1976 Crichton published Eaters of the Dead, a novel about a 10th century Muslim who travels with a group of Vikings to their settlement. Eaters of the Dead is narrated as a scientific commentary on an old manuscript and was inspired by two sources. The first three chapters retelling Ahmad ibn Fadlan's personal account of his actual journey north and his experiences in encountering the Rus', the early Russian peoples, whilst the remainder is based upon the story of Beowulf, culminating in battles with the 'mist-monsters', or 'wendol', a relict group of Neanderthals. The novel was adapted into film as The 13th Warrior, initially directed by John McTiernan, who was later fired with Crichton himself taking over direction.
In 1980 Crichton published the novel Congo, which centers on an expedition searching for diamonds in the tropical rain forest of Congo. An expedition, searching for deposits of valuable diamonds, discover the legendary lost city of Zinj and an unusual race of barbarous gorillas. The novel was adapted into a film loosely based on the novel in 1995, starring Laura Linney, Tim Curry, and Ernie Hudson. Seven years later, Crichton published Sphere, a novel which relates the story of psychologist Norman Johnson, who is required by the U.S. Navy to join a team of scientists assembled by the U.S. Government to examine an enormous alien spacecraft discovered on the bed of the Pacific Ocean, believed to have been there for over 300 years. The novel begins as a science fiction story, but rapidly transforms into a psychological thriller, ultimately exploring the nature of the human imagination. The novel was adapted into the film Sphere in 1998, directed by Barry Levinson, with a cast including Dustin Hoffman as Norman Johnson, (renamed Norman Goodman), Samuel L. Jackson, Liev Schreiber and Sharon Stone.
In 1990, Crichton published the novel Jurassic Park. Crichton utilized the presentation of "fiction as fact", used in his previous novels, Eaters of the Dead and The Andromeda Strain, in conjunction the mathematical concept of chaos theory and its philosophical implications to explain the collapse of an amusement park showcasing certain genetically recreated dinosaur species in a "biological preserve" on Isla Nublar, an island that is 120 miles west of Costa Rica. Paleontologist Alan Grant along with his paleobotanist graduate student, Ellie Sattler, are brought by the billionaire John Hammond, founder and chief executive officer of International Genetic Technologies, or InGen to investigate. Upon arrival, the park is revealed to contain cloned dinosaurs, 15 different species, including species such as Dilophosaurus, Velociraptor, Triceratops, Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex which have been recreated using damaged dinosaur DNA, found in mosquitoes that sucked Saurian blood and were then trapped and preserved in amber).
Crichton had originally conceived a screenplay about a graduate student who recreates a dinosaur; but decided to explore his fascination with dinosaurs and cloning until he began writing the novel. Spielberg learned of the novel in October 1989 while he and Crichton were discussing a screenplay that would become the television series ER. Before the book was published, Crichton demanded a non-negotiable fee of $1.5 million as well as a substantial percentage of the gross. Warner Bros. and Tim Burton, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Richard Donner, and 20th Century Fox and Joe Dante bid for the rights, but Universal eventually acquired them in May 1990 for Spielberg. Universal paid Crichton a further $500,000 to adapt his own novel, which he had completed by the time Spielberg was filming Hook. Crichton noted that because the book was "fairly long" his script only had about 10–20 percent of the novel's content, resulting in scenes from the novel being dropped for budgetary and practical reasons The film, directed by Spielberg was eventually released in 1993, starring Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler, Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm (the chaos theorist) and Richard Attenborough as billionaire CEO of InGen. The film would become extremely successful.
In 1992, Crichton published the novel Rising Sun, an international best-selling crime thriller about a murder in the Los Angeles headquarters of Nakamoto, a fictional Japanese corporation. The book was instantly adapted into a film, released the same year of the movie adaption of Jurassic Park in 1993 and starring Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Tia Carrere and Harvey Keitel. Crichton would continue with the subject matter of a high tech corporation in his next novel, Disclosure, published in 1994. The novel again revolves around a fictional high tech company, but specifically addresses the theme of sexual harassment which had been explored in previous novels such as 1972's Binary. Unlike that novel however, Crichton centers on sexual politics in the workplace, emphasising an array of paradoxes in traditional gender functions, by featuring a male protagonist who is being sexually harassed by a female executive. As a result, the book has been harshly criticized by feminist commentators and accused of anti-feminism. Crichton, anticipating this response, offered a rebuttal at the close of the novel which states that a "role-reversal" story uncovers aspects of the subject that would not be as easily seen with a female protagonist. The novel was made into a film the same year under the helm of Barry Levinson, and starring Michael Douglas, Demi Moore and Donald Sutherland.
Crichton then published The Lost World in 1995 as the sequel to Jurassic Park. It was made into a film sequel two years later in 1997, again directed by Spielberg and starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn and Pete Postlethwaite. Then, in 1996, Crichton published Airframe, an aero-techno-thriller which relates the story of a quality assurance vice-president at the fictional aerospace manufacturer Norton Aircraft, as she investigates an in-flight accident aboard a Norton-manufactured airliner that leaves three passengers dead and fifty-six injured. Like many of his other novels, Crichton uses the false document literary device, presenting numerous technical documents to create a sense of authenticity. In the novel, Crichton draws from real life accidents to increase its sensation of realism, including American Airlines Flight 191 and Aeroflot Flight 593 which flew from Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO) and crashed at its way to Hong Kong's Kai Tak Airport in 1994. Air safety procedures are a central theme in the novel. Crichton challenges public perception of air safety and somewhat relates an element of investigative journalism, and the consequences of exaggerated media reports to sell the story. The book also continues Crichton's overall theme of the failure of humans in human-machine interaction, given that plane itself worked perfectly, and had the pilot known how to react properly, the accident would not have occurred within it.
Then in 1999, Crichton published Timeline, a science fiction novel which tells the story of a team of historians and archaeologists studying at site in the Dordogne region of France where the medieval towns of Castelgard and La Roque stood who travel back to the 1357 to uncover some startling truths. The novel which continues Crichton's long history of combining technical details and action in his books, addresses quantum physics and time travel directly. The novel quickly spawned Timeline Computer Entertainment, a computer game developer that created the Timeline PC game published by Eidos Interactive in 2000. A film based on the book was released in 2003 by Paramount Pictures, with a screen adaptation by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, under the directorship of Richard Donner. The film stars Paul Walker, Gerard Butler and Frances O'Connor.
In 2002, Crichton published Prey, a cautionary tale about developments in science and technology; specifically nanotechnology. The novel explores relatively recent phenomena engendered by the work of the scientific community, such as artificial life, emergence (and by extension, complexity), genetic algorithms, and agent-based computing. Reiterating components in many of his other novels, Crichton once again brings fictional companies to the readers attention, this time Xymos, a nanorobotics company which is claimed to be on the verge of perfecting a revolutionary new medical imaging technology based on nanotechnology and a rival company, MediaTronics. Elements of the novel were utilized in the 2008 film The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which a swarm of nanobots escape from a secure military facility. Then in 2004, Crichton published State of Fear, a novel concerning eco-terrorists who attempt mass murder to support their views. Global warming and climate change serve as a central theme to the novel, and in Appendix I of the book, Crichton warns both sides of the global warming debate against the politicization of science. He provides two examples of the disastrous combination of pseudo-science and politics, the early 20th-century idea of eugenics, which he directly links to be one of the theories that allowed for the Holocaust and Lysenkoism. The novel had an initial print run of 1.5 million copies and reached the #1 bestseller position at Amazon.com and #2 on the New York Times Best Seller list for one week in January 2005.
The last novel published while he was still living was Next, printed in 2006. The novel follows many characters, including transgenic animals, in the quest to survive in a world dominated by genetic research, corporate greed, and legal interventions where government and private investors spend billions of dollars every year on genetic research. In his novel, Crichton introduces a minor character named "Mick Crowley" who is portrayed by Crichton as a child molester with a small penis.There is a real person named Michael Crowley, who is also a Yale graduate, and a senior editor of The New Republic, a left-leaning Washington D.C.-based political magazine who had written an article strongly critical of Crichton for his stance on global warming in his novel, State of Fear, earlier in March 2006.
His last novel was originally scheduled for a release date of December 2, 2008. It was postponed and will now be published on November 24, 2009. It's entitled Pirate Latitudes. Additionally, an unfinished, untitled novel is tentatively scheduled for publication in the fall of 2010.
Personal life and death
As an adolescent, Crichton felt isolated with regard to his height (at 6'9") and different from others. As an adult, he was acutely aware of his intellect which also left him often feeling alienated from people around him. During the 1970s and 1980s he consulted psychics and enlightenment gurus to make him feel more socially acceptable and to improve his karma. As a result of these experiences, Crichton practiced meditation throughout much of his life. Crichton was a workaholic. When drafting a novel which would typically take him six or seven weeks, Crichton withdrew completely and ritualistically to follow what he called "a structured approach". As he approached writing the end of each book, he would rise increasingly earlier each day, to the extent that on nearing completion he would sleep for less than 4 hours, by going to bed at 10pm and awaking at 2am.
In 1992 Crichton was ranked among People magazine's 50 most beautiful people. Crichton married five times, four of the marriages ending in divorce. He was married to Suzanna Childs, Joan Radam (1965 – 1970), Kathy St. Johns (1978 – 1980) and actress Anne-Marie Martin (1987 – 2003), the mother of his daughter Taylor Anne (born 1989). At the time of his death, Crichton was married to Sherri Alexander, who was six months pregnant with their son. John Michael Todd Crichton was born on February 12, 2009.
Given the private way in which Crichton lived his life, his battle with throat cancer was not made public until his death. He died of the disease on November 4, 2008.
Michael’s talent outscaled even his own dinosaurs of 'Jurassic Park.' He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the earth. 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. My first assignment was to show Michael Crichton around the Universal lot. We became friends and professionally 'Jurassic Park,' 'ER,' and 'Twister' followed. Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels. There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place.
—Steven Spielberg on Michael Crichton's death