Michael Crichton, the author who made scientific research terrifying and irresistible in “Jurassic Park” which was later adapted into a blockbuster movie filmed on Kaua‘i, died Tuesday in Los Angeles at age 66 after privately battling cancer.
“Through his books, Michael Crichton served as an inspiration to students of all ages, challenged scientists in many fields and illuminated the mysteries of the world in a way we could all understand,” his family said in a statement.
Crichton, a part-time North Shore resident, was an experimenter and popularizer known for his stories of disaster and systematic breakdown, such as the rampant microbe of “The Andromeda Strain” or the dinosaurs running madly in “Jurassic Park.”
Many of his books became major Hollywood movies, including the original “Jurassic Park” and a pair of its sequels, also shot on Kaua‘i. “Jurassic Park” was published in 1990 and filmed on Kaua‘i in the months surrounding Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
“It was a big lifesaver for us. After the hurricane, there was no tourism, and the filming brought a lot of money and provided jobs,” said Kaua‘i County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who served as mayor from 1988 until 1994 and estimated that $20 million was pumped into the local economy as a result. “He always had real aloha for the island. It’s really awful to hear about his passing.”
Yukimura said she, along with the council, created the Film Commission in 1989 to “facilitate and attract film production that would bring in jobs and money, and to be sure they did it in a way that was considerate of the community.”
One of the newly formed commission’s first major coups was “Jurassic Park.”
“It definitely put Kaua‘i on the map in terms of a place to make films,” Yukimura said yesterday, noting that movies like Blue Hawai‘i and South Pacific had been shot on the island decades earlier. “It was not the first … but it built on that legacy into the modern time.”
Beth Tokioka, director of the county Office of Economic Development, agreed.
“Obviously a film like that was huge for Kaua‘i. … It showcased the island, and the beauty of the picture made people want to be here,” she said yesterday. “It has definitely been a great thing for Kaua‘i, such a unique film and such a blockbuster, we were fortunate to have had it.
“When you get somebody like (director Stephen) Spielberg bringing production here with all kinds of movie stars, it raises the profile of Kaua‘i, so I think that was a significant point in the history of film on Kaua‘i. To this day, people come and want to take the movie tour and want to see where parts of that film were made.”
“Michael’s talent out-scaled even his own dinosaurs of ‘Jurassic Park,”’ said “Jurassic Park” director Steven Spielberg, a friend of Crichton’s for 40 years. “He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the Earth.”
The author even had a dinosaur named for him, Crichton’s ankylosaur.
In 1994, Crichton created the award-winning TV hospital series “ER,” and in recent years was the rare novelist granted a White House meeting with President George W. Bush, perhaps because of his skepticism about global warming, which Crichton addressed in the 2004 novel “State of Fear.”
Crichton’s views were strongly condemned by environmentalists, who alleged the author was hurting efforts to pass legislation to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.
A new novel by Crichton had been tentatively scheduled to come next month, but publisher HarperCollins said the book was postponed indefinitely because of his illness.
One of four siblings, Crichton was born in Chicago, Ill. and grew up in Roslyn, Long Island, New York. His father was a journalist and young Michael spent much of his childhood writing extra papers for teachers. He was gangly and awkward — later growing to six-feet, nine-inches tall — and used writing as a way to escape; Mark Twain and Alfred Hitchcock were his role models.
Figuring he would not be able to make a living as a writer, and not good enough at basketball, he decided to become a doctor. He studied anthropology at Harvard College, and later graduated from Harvard Medical School. During his schooling, he turned out books under pseudonyms. He had modest success with his writing and decided to pursue it.
His first hit, “The Andromeda Strain,” was written while he was still in medical school and quickly caught on upon its 1969 release. It was a featured selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and was sold to Universal in Hollywood for $250,000.
“A few of the teachers feel I’m wasting my time, and that in some ways I have wasted theirs,” he told The New York Times in 1969. “When I asked for a couple of days off to go to California about a movie sale, that raised an eyebrow.”
Crichton had a rigid work schedule: rising before dawn and writing from about 6 a.m. to around 3 p.m., breaking only for lunch. He enjoyed being one of the few novelists recognized in public, but he also felt limited by fame.
“Of course, the celebrity is nice. But when I go do research, it’s much more difficult now. The kind of freedom I had 10 years ago is gone,” he told the AP. “You have to have good table manners; you can’t have spaghetti hanging out of your mouth at a restaurant.”
Crichton was married five times and had one child. A private funeral is planned.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.