Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

AP Photo/Jim Cooper; Universal Pictures

The gone-haywire theme parks of Jurassic Park and Westworld. The breakneck medical decisions of ER. The storm chasers of Twister.

All these and more came from the mind of Michael Crichton, the megaselling novelist and Hollywood titan, who died Tuesday of what was invariably described as a private battle against cancer. He was 66.

Crichton's 1990 novel Jurassic Park inspired the blockbuster Steven Spielberg franchise. The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Sphere and the Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World, were among other Crichton books that made the leap from the page to the big screen.

In a statement today, Spielberg remembered being a young TV director assigned to show the young Crichton around the Universal Pictures studio lot.

A friendship was born. As was an abiding admiration.

"Michael's talent out-scaled even his own dinosaurs of Jurassic Park," Spielberg said. "There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place."

On television, Crichton was the creator and an executive producer of ER, the long-running NBC hit, from Spielberg's Amblin Television, that launched George Clooney's star, and which is now in its 15th and final season. He shared in the show's 1996 Emmy win for Outstanding Drama Series.

Standing at just a touch under 7 feet, Crichton was as tall as his tales—tales that turned on science and technology and put his Harvard Medical School degree to use.

His breakthrough novel was The Andromeda Strain, published in 1969. Snapped up by Hollywood, the sci-fi plague thriller became the basis for the 1971 Robert Wise movie of the same name. Earlier this year, it was remade as an A&E miniseries.

In 1973, Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, which pitted hapless humans against theme-park robots gone bad. A hit, it spawned the 1976 sequel, Futureworld. A planned movie remake from writer Billy Ray (Flightplan) is currently in the works.

Crichton revisited the Westworld theme on his own with Jurassic Park, which pitted hapless humans against theme-park dinosaurs gone wild.

"I'm not an everyday writer," Crichton told Time in 1995, "and I never have been."

But he was a dedicated writer, producing more than two dozen novels and nonfiction books. He was also a publishing phenomenon and a fixture on Forbes' wealthiest-people lists.

(Originally published Nov. 5, 2008, at 10:27 a.m. PT.)

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