Douglas Adams, the cult author who wrote “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” has died suddenly at the age of 49. Adams died of a heart attack on Friday at his home in Santa Barbara, California, his personal assistant Sophie Astin said.
“It was a very sudden and unexpected death,” Astin told Reuters.
Adams’ science fiction saga, about a group of galactic travelers who survive the demolition of earth to build a space by-pass, began life as a 1978 BBC Radio series.
It was turned into best-selling novels, a TV series, record album, computer game and adapted for stage. It made Adams a household name on both sides of the Atlantic.
British author and television personality Stephen Fry was among hundreds of friends and fans who paid tribute to Adams on his official Web site.
One message, titled “DOUGLAS NOOOOOO,” claimed to be from Ford Prefect, the lead alien character from “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” It read: “Why do the talented ones die young?”
Astin said she had received calls from Adams’s friends Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame, and David Gilmour of the rock group Pink Floyd.
Adams was working on a new novel and on an online guide, h2g2, inspired by “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” at the time of his death. Work is also under way to turn the story into a film.
“He was pretty unique in being innovative in media after media – from radio to the web,” said Ashley Highfield, BBC’s head of new media, who was working with Adams on h2g2. “He was still coming up with more new ideas than almost anyone I’ve met.”
The “Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” chronicles the journey of Ford Prefect and his human companion Arthur Dent after the destruction of earth.
The tale centers on the search for the answer to life and the universe – which turns out to be 42.
The novel has sold more than 14 million copies worldwide and was followed by sequels, “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,” “Life, the Universe and Everything” and “So Long and Thanks for all the Fish.”
While Adams will be remembered for his science fiction, he also worked for the protection of endangered species which he wrote about in his book “Last Chance to See.”
Adams was born in Cambridge in March 1952, educated at Brentwood School in Essex and St. John’s College Cambridge where in 1974 he gained an MA in English Literature.
He married Jane Belson in 1991 and had a daughter Polly in 1994.
Adams worked as a radio and television producer and writer before “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” changed his life.
Geoffrey Perkins, who produced the original radio series and had known Adams for 25 years, called him one of the most creative geniuses to ever work in radio comedy.
“For somebody who was so involved in breakthroughs in new developments in technology, it’s a tragedy that he’s died before most of the things he’s talked about have come about,” said Perkins, now head of BBC comedy.