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Lots of Screamingly Funny Sentences. No Fish. 

Douglas Adams, 1952–2001

Wednesday, May 16 2001
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Why are people born? Why do they die? Why do they want to spend so much of the intervening time wearing digital watches?

--The Hitchhiker‘s Guide to the Galaxy, 1979

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He was best known as the creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series, book series, television series, stage production, audio recordings, online games, graphic novels and bath towels. But he was also an AppleMaster, an emphatic atheist and a chicken-shed cleaner who once played guitar for Pink Floyd; later he co-founded and served as chief fantasist at the award-winning multimedia entertainment company the Digital Village. And on Friday, May 11, he suffered a heart attack while working out at a Santa Barbara health club. He died later at Cottage Hospital. Douglas Adams had turned 49 in March.

If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on the top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe you would then have something which didn‘t exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar.

--So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, 1985

Now, if you’d done all the things that Douglas Adams had and you‘d just died -- and this is just hypothetical -- you might be a bit annoyed that several big news organizations wrote the same obituary over and over and headlined them all “So Long, and Thanks for All The Fish” (or “the Books” or “the Laughter” or whatever). And you might want to complain that, contrary to some reports following your death, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a radio program before it was a book, and that you were drunk when the idea first occurred to you, lying supine in an Austrian field, staring at the spinning stars, and clutching The Hitch Hiker‘s Guide to Europe.

But Adams was an author and comic and sage who gave us every indication that the mundane details of his own career were as trivial to him as the spinning orb we call Earth is to the rest of the universe. He was the first to admit the challenges inherent in compiling a history of the Guide, from the Christmas episode of the radio series that contained nary a reference to Christmas (and aired on Christmas Eve, 1978) to the soon-to-be major motion picture, which has sputtered forward in various fits and is now in the hands of the Disney Co. (we hope someone -- his wife, Jane, perhaps -- will make sure Adams’ sensibility prevails). Now and then, he even got the chronology tangled himself (“and whenever I do get it right, I‘m misquoted,” he griped).

I think the BBC’s attitude toward the show while it was in production was very similar to that which Macbeth had toward murdering people -- initial doubts, followed by cautious enthusiasm and then greater and greater alarm at the sheer scale of the undertaking and still no end in sight.

--“The Guide to the Guide: Some Unhelpful Remarks From the Author,” 1986

He was born Douglas Noel Adams in Cambridge, England. You will notice that his initials spell DNA, which may be significant to someone, but probably isn‘t, really, in the same way the number 42, which the computer Deep Thought so famously spat out when asked for the answer to everything, might have stood for something but didn’t. Adams was at ease with the randomness of life, with its unexpectedness and chaos and undeniable absurdity. We would follow his characters anywhere gladly, confident that wherever they ultimately take us is irrelevant. The missing cat dies by the time “holistic detective” Dirk Gently can find it, but along the way Gently collides with all sorts of other delightful mysteries of the universe. The Guide begins with the very premise that the worst that can happen already has: Arthur Dent‘s house is gone; the Earth has been bulldozed. The world as we knew it has ended. But a new one has begun.

To summarize: It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

--The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, 1980

Still, we would have been happy, living in this era of encroaching multimergermegalomania in the United Oil Companies of America, if he’d hung out just a little longer. He never let us forget that we‘re living in a world overrun with greed, but he also made us ever aware that this wretchedly greedy little world resides in a universe filled with really cool stuff -- stuff much cooler, in fact, than a digital watch. He was scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont on May 13, and we would’ve liked to hear what he had to say. Because without him, we run the risk of taking it all too seriously. A little more Vogon poetry, even if it is the third worst in the universe, might just have been the antidote we needed.

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