Michael Crichton Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton, whose contributions to pop culture ranged from the human drama of ER and Disclosure to the sci-fi adventures Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, has died after what his family called "a private battle with cancer." He was 66.

"While the world knew him as a great storyteller that challenged our preconceived notions about the world around us ... family and friends knew Michael Crichton as a devoted husband, loving father and generous friend who inspired each of us to strive to see the wonders of our world through new eyes," his family said in a statement. "He did this with a wry sense of humor that those who were privileged to know him personally will never forget."

Crichton died Tuesday, the family said.

"Michael's talent out-scaled even his own dinosaurs of Jurassic Park," Steven Spielberg said of the author, in a statement to the AP. "He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the Earth." Spielberg directed Jurassic's movie version and its sequel, The Lost World.

The filmmaker also remembered Crichton on a personal level. "Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels," he said. "There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place."

ER executive producer John Wells remembered him as "an extraordinary man."

"Brilliant, funny, erudite, gracious, exceptionally inquisitive and always thoughtful," Wells said in a statement. "No lunch with Michael lasted less than three hours and no subject was too prosaic or obscure to attract his interest. Sexual politics, medical and scientific ethics, anthropology, archeology, economics, astronomy, astrology, quantum physics, and molecular biology were all regular topics of conversation. I was blessed to have known him and proud to be able to have called him my friend."

Crichton's page-turner novels - and later the plethora of TV shows and films based on his work - balanced hard science with rip-roaring adventure and small-scale emotion. They sold more than 150 million copies worldwide.

In classic sci-fi fashion, he began with small questions - could dinosaurs walk the earth again? - and blew them out in books that fantasized as much as they informed.

Countless television shows and films in recent years have featured clones, for example, and all owe the public's easy embrace of the concept to Jurassic Park's simple explanation of how dinosaur remains trapped in amber might lead to living dinosaurs.

But also in the sci-fi tradition, Crichton anticipated new technology before it appeared in real life. His terrifying raptors were terrorizing kids in Jurassic Park six years before the birth of Dolly the Sheep.

Crichton's interest in controversial scientific advances - and his right-wing views - earned him plenty of critics. His 2004 bestseller State of Fear, for example, argued that global warming was a hoax.

At 6'9", he could be intimidating in person - or on the page. After political writer Michael Crowley wrote an article accusing Crichton of using "potboiler prose" to push Republican causes, Crichton introduced a child molester in his 2006 book Next - and gave him the name "Mick Crowley."

Crichton attended Harvard College as an undergrad and obtained an M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1969. He did post-doctoral fellowship study at the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, from 1969 to 1970, and was a Visiting Writer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988.

His first book, Odds On, was published in 1966 under the pseudonym John Lange. His first major success was the The Andromeda Strain in 1969. It has since been made into a 1971 movie, and, this year, into a mini-series.

His directorial credits included Coma, Westworld, and The Great Train Robbery.

Which of Crichton's books, television shows and films were your favorites?

Watch clips of Chricton's works in our Online Video Guide.