As though I had lost a family member, the messages started coming in early this afternoon.
How are you holding up?
I’m so sorry to hear about Ray.
When I got the first message I hadn’t actually heard anything yet, but a quick check of the “Internets” proved my worst fear: Ray Bradbury, age 91 had passed away.
But I didn’t buy it. You see, for me this is the third time Ray Bradbury has died.
Twice before, good meaning friends who know my love of science fiction and Ray Bradbury have told me, out of the blue, “Oh, did you hear Ray Bradbury died.” Each time I tried to conceal my horror—and said, “No. I didn’t know that.” But in each case when I went to confirm, it wasn’t Ray at all, but another author of his era. In one case it was Kurt Vonnegut (yes, that still bummed me out). Who the other author was I don’t recall. But thankfully it wasn’t Ray.
So I’m holding out hope, you see, that Ray Bradbury is not really dead, that somehow the rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated to me—although this time the sources are more plentiful and verifiable. It’s not looking good, but I’m praying, wishing, as only one fantasy writer and fan can for another, especially one as important as Ray.
If I had a Sci-Fi/Fantasy dealer, that would be Ray. His short stories and books were my gateway drug to other fiction, maybe even my gateway drug into writing.
A friend once asked me if I could invite any three people alive or dead to dinner and converse with them, who would be on my guest list. I chose all living authors, which my friend said was telling. And Ray Bradbury was on the top of my list.
I never got to sit down and have a meal or an in-depth conversation with Mr. Bradbury, but I did get a great seat at a newly opened St. Cloud, Minnesota library to hear him speak once many years ago. He entertained the audience for an hour, talking about his life, his writing and sharing funny anecdotes. After his time on stage he sat at a desk out front to sign his books for a line of fans a block long.
I was the very last person in that line. At one point Ray announced that he would sit there as long as it took to sign every autograph. This was a man in his eighties, who had just had a stroke and had relearned how to write. Can you imagine that? Having what you do best taken away from you and having to learn it all over again at the age of eighty? Not many people would or could do that, let alone show up to sign autographs. But Ray sat there, and when I finally reached him he smiled and joked and shook my hand, and even took a fan letter from me.
The letter talked about my first memories at age 4 or 5 of seeing my father in his den reading Bradbury books. Of later my reading his books like THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN or the HALLOWEEN TREE. And later yet as a teenager (and an adult) trying my hand at writing my own fiction stories. The letter was mostly me saying thank you to this great writer who had entertained and inspired me my whole life.
Many months later he left a message on my home answering machine, thanking me for the letter. And a few days after that an autographed book showed up in the mail.
(Below: Ray's signature in his book, ZEN in the Art of Writing)
Even now his kindness and creative spirit overwhelm me.
After hearing of Ray’s passing today I looked online to see what other information others were putting out there about Ray. I was pleased to see on Twitter, that two of the trending topics were “We Hate Lady Gaga” and “Ray Bradbury.”
One other site I looked at had a posting by someone who seemed close to Ray, who obviously knew him and his works, knew him more closely than I ever would. And that person said, and I’m overly summarizing here, “I’ll never see Ray again.” They seemed completely devastated, and I don’t blame them at all.
But—I wanted to say to that person, “Disciple, have a little faith.” For you see, I have heard Ray Bradbury tell the tale many times over the years in interviews (and the time I saw him in person) of how Ray became immortal. As a young boy around the age of twelve he went to the circus and the “Mr. Electrico” placed his sword on Ray’s head and made his hair stand on end, and said to him, “Live forever.” And shortly thereafter Ray Bradbury decided that the way he would live forever would be to write, to be an author, that books in libraries and ideas were forever, immortal. (Hear the story in Ray’s own words here).
So is Ray Bradbury really dead this time?
I say no. Go to your nearest library or bookstore, or pick up your Kindle or Nook (devices that Ray Bradbury probably wanted nothing to do with), and look around you. Ray’s books are there. And I think considering all his books and short stories, printed and reprinted all over the world, that his plan at immortality worked out for him.
If you want to find Ray Bradbury and what he’s all about, to experience his ideas and his poetic fiction, just pick one of his books and start reading.
Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury.
Or better yet, live forever.
The times we’ve mentioned Bradbury on this blog (includes this post):
Ray Bradbury on why we’re all here and on growing old:
The Louis Armstrong of Science Fiction: