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Ray Bradbury, a prescient master of sci-fi as metaphor for daily life; Aug. 22, 1920 -- June 5, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- Ray Bradbury imagined the future, and didn't always like what he saw.

In his books, the science fiction-fantasy master conjured a dark, depressing future where the government used fire departments to burn books in order to hold its people in ignorance and where racial hatred was so pervasive that some people left Earth for other planets.

At the same time, his work, just like the author himself, could also be joyful, whimsical and nostalgic, as when he was describing the magic of a Midwestern summer or the innocence and fearlessness of a boy who befriends a houseful of ghosts.

Mr. Bradbury, who died Tuesday at 91, said often that all of his stories, no matter how fantastic or frightening they might be, were metaphors for everyday life and everything it entailed. And they all came from his childhood.

"The great thing about my life is that everything I've done is a result of what I was when I was 12 or 13," he said in 1982.

For more than 70 years, Mr. Bradbury spun tales that appeared in books and magazines, in the movie theater and on the television screen, firing the imaginations of generations of children, college kids and grown-ups across the world.

Years later, the sheer volume and quality of his work would surprise even him.

"I sometimes get up at night when I can't sleep and walk down into my library and open one of my books and read a paragraph and say: 'My God, did I write that? Did I write that?' Because it's still a surprise," he said in 2000.

Many of his stories were fueled by the nightmares he suffered as a child growing up poor in the Midwest during the Great Depression. At the same time, though, they were tempered by the joy he found upon arriving with his family in glitzy Los Angeles in 1934.

Decades later, he would still boast of hanging out at film studios and cajoling actors to sign autographs and pose for photos, even once getting 1930s movie queen Jean Harlow to kiss him on the cheek.

"What I have always been is a hybrid author," Mr. Bradbury explained in 2009. "I am completely in love with movies, and I am completely in love with theater, and I am completely in love with libraries."

Much of Hollywood was also in love with him, and tributes from actors, directors and other celebrities poured in upon news of his death.

"He was my muse for the better part of my sci-fi career," director Steven Spielberg said in a statement. "He lives on through his legion of fans. In the world of science fiction and fantasy and imagination, he is immortal."

Mr. Bradbury also scripted John Huston's 1956 film version of "Moby Dick" and wrote for "The Twilight Zone" and other television programs, including "The Ray Bradbury Theater," for which he adapted dozens of his works.

He rose to literary fame in 1950 with "The Martian Chronicles," a series of intertwined stories that satirized capitalism, racism and superpower tensions as it portrayed Earth colonizers destroying an idyllic Martian civilization. His stories continue to be taught at high schools and universities.

The "Chronicles" also prophesied the banning of books, especially works of fantasy. It was a theme Mr. Bradbury would take on fully in the 1953 release, "Fahrenheit 451."

Inspired by the Cold War, the rise of television and the author's passion for libraries, it was an apocalyptic narrative of nuclear war abroad and empty pleasure at home. (Mr. Bradbury said he had been told that 451 degrees Fahrenheit was the temperature at which texts went up in flames).

It was Mr. Bradbury's only true science-fiction work, according to the author, who said all his other works should have been classified as fantasy.

A futuristic classic often taught alongside George Orwell's "1984" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," Mr. Bradbury's novel also anticipated today's world of iPods, interactive TV, electronic surveillance and live, sensational media events.

Francois Truffaut directed a 1966 movie version and the book's title was referenced -- without Mr. Bradbury's permission, the author complained -- for Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/1 1."

Although involved in many futuristic projects, including the New York World's Fair of 1964 and the Spaceship Earth display at Walt Disney World in Florida, Mr. Bradbury was deeply attached to the past. He refused to drive a car and shunned flying, saying a fatal traffic accident he witnessed as a child left him with a lifelong fear of automobiles. In his younger years, he got around by bicycle or roller skates.

In 2007, he received a special Pulitzer Prize citation. Seven years earlier, he received an honorary National Book Award medal for lifetime achievement.

Born Ray Douglas Bradbury in Waukegan, Ill., the author once described himself as "that special freak, the man with the child inside who remembers all." He claimed to have total recall of his life, dating even from his final weeks in his mother's womb.

His father, Leonard, a power company lineman, was a descendant of Mary Bradbury, who was tried for witchcraft at Salem, Mass. The author's mother, Esther, read him the "Wizard of Oz."

A dynamic speaker with a booming, distinctive voice, Mr. Bradbury could be blunt and gruff, but he was also a gregarious and friendly man, approachable in public and often generous with his time to readers as well as fellow writers.

In a 2009 library lecture, he exhorted his listeners to live their lives as he said he had lived his: "Do what you love, and love what you do."

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