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My last conversation with Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury grew old but he never grew up. The late author radiated joy.
June 6th, 2012
05:54 PM ET

My last conversation with Ray Bradbury

By John Blake, CNN

The voice on the other line was slurred and halting.  My childhood hero, I realized, was nearing the end of his life.

“Hello, Mr. Bradbury,” I shouted into the phone, so loud that one of my colleagues sitting nearby raised his eyebrows.

The call was supposed to be professional. I had called Ray Bradbury’s daughter to tell her that I wanted to write about a different side of her father: What did this science fiction giant think about God and the afterlife?

But that request was a smokescreen. I just needed an excuse to talk to the man whose books and stories had enriched my childhood. Would he be as fun to talk to as he is to read, I wondered?

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He was better than I imagined. In more than 20 years of journalism, I have never encountered anyone quite like him.

Bradbury, who died at 91 Tuesday night, is already earning plenty of tributes. The author of classics such as “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles” was one of the last living links to an era in early 20th century America in which children got lost in stargazing or pulp magazines like “Weird Tales” instead of video games.

There was something magical about Bradbury that went beyond his stories. Talking to him was like taking a Happy Pill. I had a loopy smile on my face hours after talking to him. I felt as if I had hitched a ride on a red balloon floating to the stars.

Part of it was his joy and spontaneity – he overflowed with both. It seemed to give him courage in his art and his life.

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“I don’t think about what I do. I do it,” he told me. “That’s Buddhism. I jump off the cliff and build my wings on the way down.”

Then there was his boyish wonder. He sounded like a kid eating chocolate ice cream for the first time. He even lived like a boy until the very end, surrounding himself with stuffed dinosaurs and tin robots in a Los Angeles home painted dandelion yellow in honor of his favorite book, “Dandelion Wine.”

Most of us can relate to the effect children have on adults. Even the grumpiest expressions on adult’s faces evaporate when they see a child giggling and playing. It doesn’t matter if they know the child or not.

Talking to Bradbury made you smile. We only talked about 30 minutes because his stamina wouldn’t allow more. There was no guile or calculation in anything he said; he just felt it - and expressed it.

Here was a man who, upon meeting Walt Disney, said, “Mr. Disney, my name is Ray Bradbury and I love you.” Here was a man who was married 56 years to his muse and late wife, Maggie. Here was a man who loved to eat, laugh and sometimes open his books at night and cry out thanks to God because he was so grateful for his career.

I wanted to tell Bradbury how “The Martian Chronicles” had inspired me when I was in high school. I used to write wooden sci-fi stories and force my pouting younger brother to read them.

I never worked up the courage to tell him that, though. I suspect he heard plenty of tributes like that over the years.

But maybe the best tribute that can be paid to anyone is the reaction I had when I learned he had died. I didn’t feel sad. I smiled and thought, what a wonderful life.

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Bradbury never stopped stargazing. Near the end of our conversation, he told me that mankind would eventually have to follow his example. We would have to explore the stars because the sun would flame out.

“We must move into the universe. Mankind must save itself,” he said. “We must become astronauts and go out into the universe and discover the god in ourselves.”

I like to think Bradbury is now taking that journey. Liberated from his body, I can imagine his wide-eyed wonder as he hurtles past stars, comets and all the alien worlds he wrote about.

Somehow I think the man who jumped off cliffs and built wings on the way down is still soaring.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Books • Culture & Science • Faith • God

soundoff (147 Responses)
  1. Joe

    Like others here I would like to thank Mr. Bradbury. When I was four I was reading until I had an accident and lost all my memory. From then until high school I hated reading. In high school I had the opportunity to take a science fiction class and was introduced to Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov more. It reopened my eyes to reading and in my fifties I still read everything I can. Due to the fine writing of these great men my life has been enriched.

    June 7, 2012 at 1:06 am |
  2. Phwread

    I got to meet Bradbury at Comic-Con a few years in a row. The first time he was walking through the booksellers aisles and I got to shake his hand. I became a teenage girl and never wanted to wash that hand again. The next year, I was again walking through the art section and almost fell over a gentleman in a wheel-chair. He was very sweet, and I asked polity if I could take his picture. He said yes. It's not great, but it's mine, and I'll remember these quick encounters forever.

    June 7, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  3. drunkin mom

    He looks like the Elephant Man

    June 7, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  4. Jennifer Codella-Medveczky

    I shed a tear today– I've been meaning to send a letter of thanks to this great man for over 30 years for sharing his stories with me and for turning me into a reader back when I was the kid who never read . . . now I share him with my high school students and envy their discovery. . . Thank you Ray Bradbury for shining light on a few pieces of the puzzle.

    June 7, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  5. Nick

    Onward!

    June 7, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  6. John

    I really enjoyed his novels, I think Martian Chronicles meant the most to me, I thought Dandelion Wine was brilliant. I got to meet him a couple of times here in L.A. the last time I saw him was 2 yrs ago I got to thank him in person.

    June 7, 2012 at 12:26 am |
  7. feuerrader24

    My father read me "The Halloween Tree" when I was a child and I was instantly sold on Mr. Bradbury's prose. This prompted my father to dig out his old paperbacks from the 70's; the same books he grew up reading but forced to store away in the basement in mildew-ridden boxes. My father handed me his collection of damp books – Bradbury, Asimov, even those goofy "amazingly weird but true tales" books. I loved them all to pieces. As I grew older, I eventually replaced my father's Bradbury collection with fine, hardcover copies but kept the paperbacks for myself. I have hundreds of books but I know exactly where my Bradburys are because those are probably the best books I own. Thank you, to my father, who introduced Mr. Bradbury to me, and thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for inspiring me to dream a little bit longer every night. You will be missed!

    June 7, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  8. dee

    “Life should be touched, not strangled. You've got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.”
    — Ray Bradbury

    June 7, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  9. chuck

    Good job John!

    June 6, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  10. Linda Cook

    Beautifully written. I loved him and I loved his writing – love yours, too. Thanks for this lovely tribute.

    June 6, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  11. rosewashington

    He changed the world for the better. Thank you for the beautiful tribute.

    June 6, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
  12. Please Grow Up

    I worked on a play version of "Fahrenheit 451" with Ray in 1985. He was everything I wanted my literary hero to be. By the way, he was a great friend of Stan Freberg, the satirist. This fact endeared Ray to me even more.

    June 6, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Phwread

      He was his best man when Stan married Hunter in 2001. They met at a Bradbury reading. So sweet.

      June 7, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  13. Marine5484

    Very nice tribute John. I wish more people could be like Mr. Bradbury he will be truly missed.

    June 6, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  14. Travis

    Now the ABCs (Asimov, Bradbury, and Clark) are all gone, and will they be missed! Thankfully they left us many, many hours of beautiful reading. Mr. Bradbury, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you!

    June 6, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • chuck

      I'd have to add Heinlein to that trio

      June 6, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  15. Debbie

    John, this is a lovely tribute. Kudos. It made me want to go out and buy Dandelion Wine for my daughter.

    June 6, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  16. Dr. Kurt

    An incredible author who made my childhood so much richer. He helped me dream. Thank God he never lost his childhood sense of wonder. Makes me want to cultivate mine more. Mr. Bradbury you will be greatly missed.

    June 6, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  17. absoluteabsence

    Dandelion Wine was a book that had a profound impact on me as a kid of 18. Then I found his other books & was in Mars heaven from then on. Ray Bradbury is my favorite writer, no one else brought out the wonder & magic & the mystery of living this strange little life on this strange little planet more to me than Ray's stories. I will miss his optimism about life, his joy of living that leapt & cavorted in his writings. Thanks Ray for all the wonderful books – for feeding my imagination all these many years with your magical tales. God bless & Godspeed sir.

    June 6, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  18. Jerry

    What a great writer he was. I have several of his stories on cassette tape and can not find them on CD. He had a wonderful imagination and his stories were so easy to read and It was like he had lived the story himself. He will be missed so much. Thanks Ray for being here and writing such great stories.

    June 6, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  19. wolfpackbob

    Compared to Bradbury, the trolls here are truly irrelevant, and that is being kind. It must have been cool to be a member of his family and hopefully that torch was passed along. Dandelion Wine is still a great timeless read.

    June 6, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  20. wolfpackbob

    Compared to Bradbury, the trolls here are truly irrelevant, and that is being kind. It must have been cool to be a member of his family and hopefully that torch was passed along. Dandelion Wine is still a great timeless read.

    June 6, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.