Harlan Ellison died in his sleep last night. News of his death sent shock waves to all those who either knew him, knew of him, knew his work or knew his personality – all of which were complicated.
As a writer, his gift spread across several genres, under several pseudonyms, but mostly he is known for his Science Fiction and his groundbreaking work on Star Trek.
As an essayist he pulled no punches and spoke the truth; sometimes a truth that would sting and raise hackles – but Harlan Ellison was one person never to back down. His essays during the formative years of The L.A. Reader made for riveting work – usually always accompanied by a personal “hell yeah!’ when I finished. He never elicited passivity, especially in his writing.
I never knew him personally – I ran into him several times, but never summoned up the nerve to say hello – people who strike you as profound have that affect, at least on me. It’s been a character flaw for a long time and has resulted in many missed opportunities.
But hearing the news today that this icon had passed was, at first shocking, and then I was reminded of how important he was in the lives of so many people; whether you cared for him or not. He had detractors – people who loathed him. But when you speak the truth, it’s not often in the service of seeking friends or winning admirers; it’s for communicating a message. And who doesn’t have those faults? There is the public persona and the private persona and the two rarely have anything in common. It’s the observation and the keen, unflinching eye that rises above everything and isn’t afraid to speak the unvarnished truth. And Harlan Ellison had that in spades. And he will be truly missed.
Here is an essay he did for Buzz Magazine in 1991 – it was graciously given to me by my friend and colleague Sallie Green who worked for Buzz at the time.
I owe her one.