The science fiction author who wrote watershed 1954 vampire novel I Am Legend and whose work inspired several major fantasy feature films has died aged 87.
A spokesman for the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films confirmed that Matheson died on Sunday in Los Angeles.
The sci-fi hero was just 29 when he penned I Am Legend. It was made into The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price (and in which Matheson made a cameo) in 1964, Omega Man with Charlton Heston seven years later and 2007's I Am Legend starring Will Smith.
During his 60-year career Matheson became known for his short stories including 1953’s Hell House and 1971’s Duel – both of which were adapted for screen and television. The latter was adapted for television by Matheson himself and gave Steven Spielberg his “first break”.
Matheson also wrote several episodes of TV show The Twilight Zone, as well as episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, The Martian Chronicles and Amazing Stories.
His Twilight Zone instalments included Nightmare at 20,000 Feet featuring William Shatner as an aeroplane passenger who spots a creature on its wing, as well as Steel, which inspired the 2011 film Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman.
Brooklyn-born Matheson graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism before moving to California in 1951. He sold his first story, Born of Man and Woman, to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950.
Matheson’s film debut came in 1956 when he adapted his story The Shrinking Man into sci-fi film classic The Incredible Shrinking Man.
Matheson’s work also formed the basis for 1998 Oscar-winning film starring Robin Williams, What Dreams May Come.
Spielberg today paid tribute to Matheson in a statement. He wrote: "Richard Matheson's ironic and iconic imagination created seminal science-fiction stories and gave me my first break when he wrote the short story and screenplay for Duel.”
"His Twilight Zones were among my favourites, and he recently worked with us on Real Steel. For me, he is in the same category as [Ray] Bradbury and [Isaac] Asimov."
Matheson had been due to receive the visionary award at the Academy of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Films’ Saturn Awards tomorrow. The gong will now be presented posthumously and the ceremony will be dedicated to him.
"I loved Richard Matheson's writing, and it was a huge honour getting to adapt his story Button, Button' into a film," the director of Donnie Darko Richard Kelly on Twitter.