Author of 'Fahrenheit 451,' Ray Bradbury, Dies at 91

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"Everything I've done is a surprise, a wonderful surprise," Bradbury said during his acceptance speech in 2000. "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."

Other honors included an Academy Award nomination for an animated film, "Icarus Montgolfier Wright," and an Emmy for his teleplay of "The Halloween Tree." His fame even extended to the moon, where Apollo astronauts named a crater "Dandelion Crater," in honor of "Dandelion Wine," his beloved coming-of-age novel, and an asteroid was named 9766 Bradbury.

Born Ray Douglas Bradbury on Aug. 22, 1920, 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 to 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." His Aunt Neva introduced him to Edgar Allan Poe and gave him a love of autumn, with its pumpkin picking and Halloween costumes.

"If I could have chosen my birthday, Halloween would be it," he said over the years.

Nightmares that plagued him as a boy also stocked his imagination, as did his youthful delight with the Buck Rogers and Tarzan comic strips, early horror films, Tom Swift adventure books and the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

"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.

Bradbury's family moved to Los Angeles in 1934. He became a movie buff and a voracious reader. "I never went to college, so I went to the library," he explained.

He tried to write at least 1,000 words a day, and sold his first story in 1941. He submitted work to pulp magazines until he was finally accepted by such upscale publications as The New Yorker. Bradbury's first book, a short story collection called "Dark Carnival," was published in 1947.

He was so poor during those years that he didn't have an office or even a telephone. "When the phone rang in the gas station right across the alley from our house, I'd run to answer it," he said.

He wrote "Fahrenheit 451" at the UCLA library, on typewriters that rented for 10 cents a half hour. He said he carried a sack full of dimes to the library and completed the book in nine days, at a cost of $9.80.

Few writers could match the inventiveness of his plots: A boy outwits a vampire by stuffing him with silver coins; a dinosaur mistakes a fog horn for a mating call (filmed as "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms"); Ernest Hemingway is flown back to life on a time machine. In "The Illustrated Man," one of his most famous stories, a man's tattoo foretells a horrifying deed — he will murder his wife.

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

In 2009, at a lecture celebrating the first anniversary of a small library in Southern California's San Gabriel Valley, Bradbury exhorted his listeners to live their lives as he said he had lived his: "Do what you love and love what you do."

"If someone tells you to do something for money, tell them to go to hell," he shouted to raucous applause.

Until near the end of his life, Bradbury resisted one of the innovations he helped anticipate: electronic books, likening them to burnt metal and urging readers to stick to the old-fashioned pleasures of ink and paper. But in late 2011, as the rights to "Fahrenheit 451" were up for renewal, he gave in and allowed his most famous novel to come out in digital form. In return, he received a great deal of money and a special promise from Simon & Schuster: The publisher agreed to make the e-book available to libraries, the only Simon & Schuster e-book at the time that library patrons were allowed to download.