Farewell Harlan Ellison


I learned of Harlan Ellison’s passing on June 28th mere moments after an old friend sent me a private message on Facebook alerting me that it was National “I Care About You” Day.  And that seems appropriate, because I care about Harlan Ellison.  Very much.  And I always will.

We met years ago when Wizard Magazine hired me to interview Harlan about an upcoming comic book series he was writing in 1999, and learned he lived only a few minutes away from me; we kept in touch over the years and soon found ourselves working in an industry we both adored—audiobooks.  And just as he was a complicated man, ours was a complicated friendship: some of the things he said to me over the years were the hardest words I’ve ever heard, yet many of the kindnesses he showed me left me stunned and delighted.  He may have been a man of prodigious anger, but he shared with me equally prodigious generosity and grace.

For those who’re somehow unaware, Harlan was known as a combative spirit; it seems wonderfully appropriate that when dozens of his friends created an organization to support him during a legal crisis decades ago, they chose to name their group Friends of Ellison.  On our first day together, Harlan proudly showed me the button they had made with their acronym emblazoned across it: F.O.E.  I said, “Jesus, Harlan, even your friends are foes!”  And he smiled with a pride I’ll never be able to describe.

Harlan was probably best known as the author of one of the most famous—and contentious—hours in television history, the episode he wrote for the original Star Trek, “The City on the Edge of Forever.”  The story of its production, and his falling out with producer Gene Roddenberry, is the stuff of legend, so I won’t go into it any further here, except to say that I had the privilege to play the role of Spock when Harlan’s original version of the screenplay was finally brought to life on audio in 2016.  Being my own personal favorite episode of my favorite TV show of all time, I felt blessed beyond words to be able to take part in it; I remember feeling, at the time, that in some ways THIS was what I had gotten into the industry to do.

Combative though he was, it’s our last afternoon together I will remember most.  We were recording a few scenes for Ender’s Game Alive in 2013, a multi-voice recording that drew in a stellar array of talent to Marc Graue Studios in Burbank, and though my scenes were all completed by lunchtime, Harlan still had a few left to record after a lunch break.  And because I was having a wonderful time listening to some of the most memorable stories Harlan had ever shared with me, I chose to stick around for the next hour, during which time he reminisced, sharing anecdotes with me that I dearly wish now had been told in front of a live microphone.  Finally, Harlan looked at me, puzzled, and asked, “Wait, didn’t they release you?”  Yes, I said.  “Then why are you still here?” he asked.  Because I’m enjoying talking to you, I said.  “Oh,” he replied, then smiled, and then grew somber.

“Did you hear about Dick?” he asked, referring to his longtime friend—and the man he knew was my favorite author of all time, Richard Matheson, who had passed away a few days earlier.  Yes, I said, and told him I felt devastated by his passing.  But Harlan had known Matheson decades longer than I, and he was more real in that moment than I had ever seen him, and he said with an eloquence that was both simple and heartbreaking, “Kid, the hardest part about growing old is outliving your friends.”

Which is how I feel today.  Grateful to still be here, but sorrowful that there won't be any more such days with him.  And, truth to tell, I have a huge regret when it comes to my relationship with Harlan.

See, years ago, just as I was getting into audiobook narration, Harlan got upset with me.  I know this to be true because he spent twenty minutes screaming at me over the phone, but it was largely based on a misunderstanding.  Sadly, I couldn’t make Harlan understand that at the time, so, as a result, I avoided him in any circumstance or at any event that it seemed likely we’d meet.  See, he was so angry that day that I was convinced he was still upset with me years later, but one day, while working on a movie together (The Gift, by Gabrielle DeCuir and Stefan Rudnicki) Harlan saw me editing a manuscript I’d written.  He came and stood over my shoulder for a few minutes, reading my work—and if you’ve never experienced a legendary author assessing your writing, trust me when I say it’ll make you gulp, loudly—until he asked, “Is that your writing?”  Yes, I said, timid and barely loud enough to be heard.  Then he sighed and said, “Walk with me, kid.”  He then proceeded to tell me about a small but fundamental flaw he’d noticed at first glance as we spent twenty minutes walking through a nearby garden.  He waxed eloquently and at great length about how one simple solution would instantly fix every problem I was having with my story, and by God he was right.  Given how upset he’d been with me years before, I was floored by the generosity of spirit he showed me that day.

Years went by, and the day after we spent in the studio on Ender’s Game, I sent Harlan a thank you card for sharing all his stories with me, and I used the opportunity to express my regret that we’d spent so many years not talking because of that perceived slight.  Days later, he called and left a message on my cellphone to tell me, “Are you kidding?  I was never angry with you!”  Which in itself was hugely generous, because he clearly had been, but the gesture was lovely, and I’ll never forget it.  But I will also always regret those years with him that I lost.  For such a contentious soul, he was a dear, sweet man.  And he would hate it that I just said that!

Harlan once said that he continued to write “because all writers in some insane place believe that to write is a holy chore—that what one wishes to do is speak to one’s time, to make a difference, to say: ‘I was here.  I was a force for good in some way.’”

Mission accomplished, Harlan.  Rest well.

As always, thanks for listening.

Scott Brick

The City on the Edge of Forever

The City on the Edge of Forever

  • By Harlan Ellison
  • Scott Brick, Orson Scott Card, Bonnie MacBird, Richard J. Brewer, Ryan C. Britt, Richard Gilliland, Larry Nemacek, full cast
  • Length 8 hrs and 1 min
  • Release Date: 07-26-2016
Ender's Game Alive

Ender's Game Alive

  • By Orson Scott Card
  • Scott Brick, full cast
  • Length 7 hours and 24 minutes
  • Release Date: 10-22-2013

Yesterday was perhaps the coolest day of my entire career, and these are the folks I was honored to share a microphone with. John Rubinstein is Captain Kirk. Jean Smart is Edith Keeler. Richard Gilliland is Doctor McCoy. And me?

I am Spock. Wow. Maybe the coolest three words I’ve ever written.


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