Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton Headshot

Writer • Producer • Director

Birth Name: John Michael Crichton

Birth Date: October 23, 1942

Death Date: November 4, 2008

Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois

Spouses: Sherri Alexander, Anne-Marie Martin

Dubbed "The Father of the Techno Thriller," author Michael Crichton first established himself as a physician and lecturer before turning his expertise to books, films and television. Though he penned several books under various pseudonyms, Crichton emerged as a best-selling genre writer with The Andromeda Strain (1969). Shortly after Robert Wise's successful film adaptation of that novel in 1971, Crichton moved into feature directing himself with "Westworld" (1973), a robot thriller set in a Western theme park.

Over the ensuing decades, Crichton churned out numerous and eminently readable novels that tended to be plot-driven rather than character studies and made excellent fodder for screenplays; many of which he adapted and even directed. Perhaps his biggest success was penning the novel Jurassic Park, which was later turned into one of the biggest blockbusters in the history of film. Surprisingly pessimistic for bestsellers, his novels were meticulously researched and well constructed arguments supporting the author's various pet peeves - namely the arrogance of scientists, and the manifold abuses of political and economic power. Meanwhile, as a writer-director, he crafted several compelling thrillers, like "Coma" (1978) and "The First Great Train Robbery" (1979), as well as created one of the most successful television shows in history with "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009) - all of which helped to establish Crichton as a powerful and lucrative force in several mediums.

Born on Oct. 23, 1942 in Chicago, IL, Crichton was raised in Rosyln, NY by his father, John, an executive editor of Advertising Age, and his mother, Zula. Crichton attended Harvard University where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, wrote for the Harvard Crimson, played basketball and graduated summa cum laude with an undergraduate degree in anthropology in 1964. Following a stint as a Henry Russell Shaw Traveling Fellow and Visiting Lecturer in anthropology at the University of Cambridge, he earned his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1969. He followed this up with a postdoctoral fellowship at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where he researched public policy with British mathematician Jacob Bronowski. While attending to his studies in medical school, Crichton began writing novels under the nom de plumes Jeffrey Hudson and John Lange. As Jeffrey Hudson, his medical thriller Case of Need won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1969. That same year, Crichton published the techno-thriller, The Andromeda Strain, under his given name, which established himself as a best-selling author.

Crichton made the jump to film with the adaptation of "The Andromeda Strain" (1971), then quickly moved into his own effort by directing "Pursuit" (1972), a made-for-television movie based on the novel Binary by his old pen name, John Lange. After an adaptation of A Case of Need into the Blake Edwards murder mystery "The Carey Treatment" (1972), Crichton made his feature directorial debut with "Westworld" (1973), a sci-fi thriller about robots running wild after a computer glitch in an amusement park for rich people. Following the adaptation of his own novel for "The Terminal Man" (1974), from which he was subsequently fired for straying too much from the book, he directed his second feature, "Coma" (1978), a tense medical thriller about the strange goings-on at a Boston hospital. He deviated from techno-thriller territory when he directed "The First Great Train Robbery" (1979), a crime drama based on the first-ever robbery of a moving train in 1855 England. Crichton returned to his bread-and-butter to direct "Looker" (1981), an almost-ridiculous look at celebrity and the power of mind control via television, and "Runaway" (1984), which starred Tom Selleck as a futuristic cop tasked with terminating malfunctioning robots.

Following his last directing effort with the disappointing courtroom drama "Physical Evidence" (1989), Crichton graduated to mega-budget filmmaking with two high-profile adaptations. Steven Spielberg helmed the $70 million special-effects-laden version of Crichton's 1990 novel "Jurassic Park" (1993) about the biogenetically engineered return of dinosaurs to a theme park. This combined two of Crichton's recurring themes - human arrogance and greed falling prey to the power of nature. Around the same time, writer-director Philip Kaufman steered Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes in a $35 million adaptation of "Rising Sun" (1992), which examined the darker side of Japanese investment in the United States. Crichton co-wrote the screenplay for "Jurassic Park" with David Koepp, while he and screenwriter Michael Backes collaborated on "Rising Sun." Meanwhile, Barry Levinson directed "Disclosure" (1994), based on Crichton's novel released that same year, which dealt with sexual harassment in the work place; the twist being that a male employee (Michael Douglas) sues his newly appointed female superior (Demi Moore) for improper behavior. Though he served as a co-producer, Crichton left the screen adaptation to Paul Attanasio. The film itself opened to much controversy and healthy box-office returns.

As Crichton became a household name, his previously published novels were bought by studios for adaptation, while newly released material was gobbled up before they had a chance to hit the shelves. A film adaptation of Crichton's 1980 novel Congo was made into a much-maligned thriller in 1995, while "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997), a sequel to the 1993 blockbuster, was released to greater fanfare and box office dollars. Crichton and his wife Anne-Marie Martin collaborated on the script for "Twister" (1996), a goofy and often ridiculous actioner about scientists who study tornadoes. While the special effects overwhelmed the rather trite story, the film went on to become a blockbuster. Meanwhile, Crichton and Martin were sued by another screenwriter who claimed they had plagiarized his work, but a jury dismissed the claim. Crichton went on to co-produce a film version of his novel Eaters of the Dead but reportedly clashed with director John McTiernan's vision and the resulting struggles kept the film from receiving distribution for two years. When it was released as "The 13th Warrior" (1999), the film was roundly dismissed by critics and audiences. In the interim, Crichton has also served as a producer on the screen adaptation of his undersea novel "Sphere" (1998).

While he certainly knew his way around a film set, television was largely an unexplored medium for Crichton until the fall of 1994. After a long absence since his directorial debut with the television movie "Pursuit," Crichton returned to the small screen to create and executive produce the acclaimed medical drama "ER." One of the five top-rated shows of its first season, "ER" developed into one of the most riveting and influential medical dramas since "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88). Boasting a talented ensemble, gritty stories, frenzied action and buckets of blood, "ER" became another triumph for the former M.D. Though he was credited for his work on "Jurassic Park III" (2001) and "Timeline" (2003), Crichton kept his focus on "ER" and churning out novels like Prey (2002), State of Fear (2004) and Next. After the release of the latter novel, Crichton maintained a low profile; the reason for which became apparent on Nov. 5, 2008 when it was announced suddenly that he had died the previous day in Los Angeles after a private battle with cancer. He was 66.