Author, Waukegan native Ray Bradbury dies in California
Science-fiction master Ray Bradbury, one of Lake County's most famous native sons, is being remembered here as an imaginative, inspirational and important author.
Bradbury, best known for creating a book-burning, dystopian future in "Fahrenheit 451," died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 91.
Bradbury's daughter, Alexandra, announced his death. She did not share details.
Born in Waukegan, Bradbury transformed his childhood dreams and Cold War fears into telepathic Martians, lovesick sea monsters and -- most famously -- firefighters who burned books instead of saving lives.
The latter appeared in "Fahrenheit 451," a book that's become mandatory reading for students across the U.S. but also has landed on lists of banned books in some communities.
"'Fahrenheit 451' is so important," said Laurel Vlcek, head of adult services at the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire. "In any age, we see suppression of dissenting ideas. It's really an important statement."
Bradbury 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 to his final weeks in his mother's womb.
Bradbury's family moved to Los Angeles in 1934, but his childhood in Waukegan inspired him. He depicted the city as "Green Town" in his semi-autobiographical book "Dandelion Wine" and in other stories.
And the city honored him in return. Just this past weekend, Waukegan held its annual Dandelion Wine Fine Arts Festival.
Additionally, a Ray Bradbury Park is located in Waukegan, and the Waukegan Public Library holds a Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival every Halloween at the city's Genesee Theater.
There's even a bar called The Green Town Tavern on Genesee Street in Waukegan.
Despite living on the West Coast, Bradbury remained an ardent supporter of the library, Executive Director Richard Lee said. Lee said he and Bradbury spoke about four times during his tenure, but they never met.
The library has recordings of interviews with the author, which Lee prizes.
"He really felt like (the library) set him on his course," Lee said.
Scott Davis, the director of Mundelein's Fremont Public Library, said Bradbury was his favorite author as a child.
"I think the first novel I read was 'Dandelion Wine,'" said Davis, who grew up in Palatine. "He sparked my imagination."
Bradbury broke through 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.
The book was a Cold War morality tale in which imagined lives on other planets serve as commentary on human behavior on Earth.
Buffalo Grove writer Raymond Benson said "The Martian Chronicles" was among the first books he read.
Benson met Bradbury about 10 years ago at the Los Angeles Book Festival. Benson recalled purchasing a book from him and getting his autograph.
"Meeting somebody like that, you shake their hand and hope some of their genius rubs off on you," said Benson, whose newest novel, "The Black Stiletto: Black & White," recently was released.
Of all of Bradbury's stories, it was 1953's "Fahrenheit 451" that garnered the most attention -- and continues to today.
Its message about the importance of free speech and free thought resonates with Vlcek and countless other librarians.
"Through reading comes knowledge and education, and that's what makes the world a better place," Vlcek said.
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.
"What I have always been is a hybrid author," Bradbury said 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."
Bradbury's fame extended to the moon, where Apollo astronauts named a crater "Dandelion Crater." An asteroid was named 9766 Bradbury, too.
Charlie Balicki, manager of Libertyville's Dreamland Comics shop and a Mundelein native, said it was cool to grow up as a science-fiction and horror fan knowing Bradbury also was from Lake County.
"He was an integral part of my science-fiction childhood," Balicki said.
Although slowed in recent years by a stroke, Bradbury remained active into his 90s, turning out new novels, plays, screenplays and a volume of poetry.
"To know that we won't see any more new written works from this great artist, this author ... it's heartbreaking," Waukegan Mayor Bob Sabonjian said.
City officials will find a new way to honor Bradbury, Sabonjian said.
Bradbury is survived by his four daughters. Marguerite Bradbury, his wife of 56 years, died in 2003.
Daily Herald wire services contributed to this report.