There are few people whose passing could affect me the same way as a close relative or a good friend. I remember being terribly sad when Roy Orbison died. I may have shed a tear over the loss of Stanley Kubrick and drank a few too many to the memory of H.S.T.
Such are the bonds you grow with an artist over time. None of those compare to the heartbreak of losing a beloved, revered and favorited uncle like Ray Bradbury.
Like most of my generation, I came to Bradbury first, as a child, first with vaguely remembered chills watching The Martian Chronicles on TV, then through the Disney film version of Something Wicked This Way Comes. I was a very impressionable nine years of age when I first saw that. Along with E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner and The Empire Strikes Back, these are the things that formed me (I could also add dusk til dawn Drive-In showings of Saturn 3 and The Shining, but that’s another story.)
Not long after, we got Superchannel (Canada’s early answer to HBO), and I was regaled with weekly, then daily, showings of Ray Bradbury Theatre. Ray became my go-to impression of a writer. Every episode, wandering through his kick-knack and ephemera-strewn offices, rambling on about African veldts, Martian landscapes and magicians toy shops. The ensuing stories weren’t always great, but they were definitely interesting.
Eventually, I stumbled across dog-eared copies of I Sing the Body Electric and The Illustrated Man during flea market wanderings and afternoon sojourns in the used bookstore. That led to my reading The Martian Chronicles, S is for Space, The Halloween Tree, Death is a Lonely Business, and one of the single most treasured books in my entire collection, Fahrenheit 451. In the end, I can honestly say I have spent more time with Ray Bradbury than I have with almost any of my relatives or friends. Uncle Ray was an inspiration, a role model and a barely-known friend.
I had the great pleasure to meet Ray in 2007. He was at SDCC that year, appearing in a panel with Ray Harryhausen that I was lucky enough to attend. I had the unbelievable luck, great pleasure and unmitigated honor to speak to him for a sparse few moments. He was genial enough to tell me he envied “young” writers like myself, that he wished me luck and great success. He was heartfelt and genuine. He was charismatic and charming, even at 87 years old, wheeled around in ill health, and mobbed by admirers. He made me feel like a friend, despite only speaking for maybe five minutes. Then I watched in awe, along with a hundred others, as he held the room in a state of pure enchantment. I would certainly count it as one of the greatest moments in my life as a writer. He was, is and always will be one of my primary inspirations as an author.
He was a writer who refused to be pigeonholed or labeled. He simply wrote what he found interesting and profound. He wrote from the heart and from the untapped corners of our psyches. Ray Bradbury was a legend, an innovator, a gentleman and one of the great unacknowledged philosophers of our time. First and foremost, always and ever, he was a storyteller, and that is how he will live forever in our hearts and minds. May that stay true for a thousand years and more. Good to know you, Ray. You are already missed.
“If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury (1920 – 2012)