By BRUCE WEBER
Published: December 6, 2008
It’s a common claim that someone is the world’s biggest fan of such-and-such. Elizabeth Taylor’s biggest fan. The biggest fan of the New York Jets. The world’s biggest country music fan. Hardly anyone takes such a designation seriously, except, perhaps, when it comes to Forrest J Ackerman, whose obsessive devotion to science fiction and horror stories was so fierce that he helped propel their popularity. Indeed, he was widely credited with coining the term sci-fi.
Mr. Ackerman died on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 92. The cause was heart failure, The Associated Press reported, quoting Kevin Burns, who is head of the production company Prometheus Entertainment and a trustee of Mr. Ackerman’s estate.
In the cultural niche defined by monsters, rocket ships and severed body parts, Mr. Ackerman was decreed by acclamation to be its leading citizen. He was a film buff, an editor of pulp magazines and anthologies, a literary agent for dozens of science fiction writers and an amateur historian. No one has evidently disputed his claim that he created the expression sci-fi.
He was also an omnivorous memorabilia collector who once turned a former home of his overlooking Los Angeles into a sort of scream-a-torium. Thousands of science-fiction fans made pilgrimages to the house, a repository of more than 300,000 books, posters, masks, costumes, statuettes, models, film props and other artifacts. (He sold the house several years ago to pay for mounting medical bills.)
“He was the world’s biggest fan,” the writer Stephen King said in a recent phone interview. “If you had been to his house, you wouldn’t doubt it.”
Mr. Ackerman’s appetite for science fiction embraced the highbrow as well as the low. His favorite film, he often said, was Fritz Lang’s futuristic masterpiece from 1927, “Metropolis.” He said he had seen it nearly 100 times. In 2002, when he received a lifetime achievement award at the World Fantasy Convention, he shared honors with one of the most admired writers of fantasy and science fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin, whose book “The Other Wind” was named the year’s best novel.
But Mr. Ackerman spent most of his time in the arena of pop culture. Between 1958 and 1983, he wrote and edited Famous Monsters of Filmland, a seminal black-and-white magazine heavily illustrated with photographs from Mr. Ackerman’s collection. The magazine emphasized the scream-worthy features of movies and was fond of groan-worthy wordplay. “Menace, Anyone?” was a typical title. But it also conveyed the idea that language was flexible and that using it could be fun.
The magazine fired the imaginations of generations of young horror fans, including Mr. King and the filmmakers George Lucas and Joe Dante (“Gremlins”).