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Memories of Ray Bradbury

001 – Ray-Bradbury-cat

I guess it had to happen someday. While checking my email news feed, my heart grows heavy to see that the great Ray Bradbury has died. It’s a deeply felt loss! Ray had been in failing health for over a decade, the result of a stroke and advancing age (which only seemed to slightly slow him down and did not crush his indomitable spirit!). I’m glad he doesn’t’ have to deal with his failing body anymore but, dear God, what a great loss.

I guess in some ways, Ray couldn’t have timed it better as it happened when we had a rare transit of Venus (he always had a flare for the dramatic). It’s like a magician disappearing in a puff of smoke at the end of a performance….

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s there were two big social influences in my life (besides my beloved family and my faith). One was music, especially the wonderful vocals of Elvis Presley. The other was my love of science fiction. I can’t remember where I first heard this but it certainly applied to my life; my A,B,C’s as an adolescent were Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. Now they’re all gone, Ray the last of them.

Ray’s was born 91 years ago to an average family in an average town (Waukegan,Illinois) and he never thought of himself or his background as anything exceptional. Ray loved to read and his eyes devoured whatever he could lay his hands on, but he especially seemed fond of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Edgar Allen Poe. He was a child of the depression but, unlike so many who endured the poverty of that era, decided he didn’t want a “good job” like being an accountant or doctor. As a teenager Ray found his calling — he wanted to be a writer, far from a practical career but one which ultimately served him and all of us so very well. The early years were very hard but he was lucky enough to have latched on to his soul-mate — his wife of almost 60 years, Marguerite (who passed away in 2003). Ray had some great stories about those early years, when they were newly married and so poor he couldn’t even afford a phone (his phone was a payphone just outside their apartment — he’d leave the window open so he could hear it and would tell people that if they called him to let it ring because he was slow getting to the phone. After all, it takes a while to run down a flight of stairs and outside to answer a ringing payphone.). But that didn’t matter. He was in love with a wonderful woman and with life! And he was honing his craft.

Ray Bradbury at home on a business call

Ray was an astute observer and documentor of the human condition which he shared with delightful metaphors. And he crafted some 29 wonderful novels over the years, from “The Martian Chronicles” to “Something Wicked This Way Comes” to (my favorite of his novels), “Fahrenheit 451”. Ray liked to share how Fahrenheit 451 — his warning to us about censorship — was crafted. He was too poor to buy a typewriter so he went to the UCLA library where he could rent a typewriter for 10 cents an hour. $9.80 later, he had birthed this classic. But as much as I’ve enjoyed reading Ray’s novels, I thought he really excelled at the short story, wherein his joy for life and his understanding of its frailty shone so brightly. He’s published over 600 of them (not counting the many short stories he wrote as a boy and discarded) and he confessed to me that this was the writing style he most enjoyed (but which sadly would not pay the bills). Ray also wrote screenplays, including that for John Houston’s 1950s classic “Moby Dick”. He wrote for Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone”and plays for the theater. He was, in every sense of the word, a multidimensional talent.

About 10 years ago, my friend Wayne Houser and I visited Ray for the first in what was to be a series of several visits with the great man. It was Wayne who introduced me to Sir Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka, for which I will always be grateful to him. Arthur had sent back some items that he wanted us to hand-deliver to Ray, which we gladly did. What an opportunity!!. Not only did we have the experience of sitting two-on-one with this great man and discussing with him his writing, his views on life, some of his experiences in “show business”, but I believe we inspired the last phone conversation between Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. Living on opposite ends of the planet, this was not an easy thing to arrange but these too greats had a chat a few years before Arthur died in 2008 which both SciFi giants enjoyed. I believe the call ended with Ray challenging Arthur to a wheelchair race on the moon (by this time they were both wheelchair bound).

(As an aside, I’ve always found it so very interesting that neither of these two giants — not Ray Bradbury or Arthur C. Clarke — ever had an interest in driving or ever possessed a driver’s license. Perhaps their genius was in thinking and not in the concrete act of getting from point A to point B).

Ray Bradbury’s famous cluttered basement office

Ray had the great ability to lift up people’s spirits. When you were in Ray’s company, you felt better. He had a way of cheering everyone up (even if you weren’t feeling down) and making you feel good about life. When I left Ray’s home after a visit with him, I felt a “glow” of happiness come with me. Ray inspired me to be a better more positive person.

Complaining because you’re feeling sick? Ray had a stroke and could only use one side of his body well but he’d like to say, “Hell, I’ve still got one arm that works so why let it slow me down?”. He was that positive about most everything. He lived to write, which he did every morning shortly after he got up when he felt most creative. He was writing even to the end — remarkable really to be actively creative into his 90s.

He had received many recognitions and rewards in his life but one that I know he was extremely proud of was when in 2004, he received the National Medal of the Arts, awarded to him in the Oval Office by then President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura. Bradbury pointed out to the president that they both were wise enough to marry librarians. The comment earned him a big smile and “now I know why I like this guy!” comment from “W”.

Ray had an exceptional memory. He claims that he could remember everything that ever happened in his life, including his birth, which I actually believe. Ray was that honest and his mind was that unusual that I have no problem accepting this.

Ray was the father of 4 beautiful girls, a grandfather of 8, and a friend and councilor to hundreds. It’s really hard to put your finger on how many millions Ray’s life and work touched.

Ray once told me that if he couldn’t have become a writer, he would have liked to been a magician. I told him that he had succeeded at both. That his writing was magical…..It brought a smile to his face but I’m sure he’d heard it before.

The world is a sadder and less bright with this flame of optimism extinguished. Good-bye Ray and thanks for everything. Give our love to Marguerite.

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