LOS ANGELES (AP) — Stan Lee, the creative dynamo who revolutionized the comic book and helped make billions for Hollywood by introducing human frailties in superheroes such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, died Monday. He was 95.
Lee was declared dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to Kirk Schenck, an attorney for Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee.
As the top writer at Marvel Comics and later as its publisher, Lee was widely considered the architect of the contemporary comic book. He revived the industry in the 1960s by offering the costumes and action craved by younger readers while insisting on sophisticated plots, college-level dialogue, satire, science fiction, even philosophy.
Millions responded to the unlikely mix of realistic fantasy, and many of his characters, including Spider-Man, the Hulk and X-Men went on to become stars of blockbuster films. Recent projects he helped make possible range from the films “Black Panther” and “Doctor Strange” to such TV series as “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“I think everybody loves things that are bigger than life. … I think of them as fairy tales for grown-ups,” he told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview. “We all grew up with giants and ogres and witches. Well, you get a little bit older and you’re too old to read fairy tales. But I don’t think you ever outgrow your love for those kind of things, things that are bigger than life and magical and very imaginative.”
Lee considered the comic-book medium an art form and he was prolific: By some accounts, he came up with a new comic book every day for 10 years.
“I wrote so many I don’t even know. I wrote either hundreds or thousands of them,” he told the AP in 2006.
He hit his stride in the 1960s when he brought the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man and numerous others to life.
“It was like there was something in the air. I couldn’t do anything wrong,” he recalled.
His heroes, meanwhile, were a far cry from virtuous do-gooders such as rival DC Comics’ Superman.
The Fantastic Four fought with each other. Spider-Man was goaded into superhero work by his alter ego, Peter Parker, who suffered from unrequited crushes, money problems and dandruff. The Silver Surfer, an alien doomed to wander Earth’s atmosphere, waxed about the woeful nature of man. The Hulk was marked by self-loathing. Daredevil was blind and Iron Man had a weak heart.
“The beauty of Stan Lee’s characters is that they were characters first and superheroes next,” Jeff Kline, executive producer of the “Men in Black” animated television series, told The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, in 1998.
Some of Lee’s creations became symbols of social change — the inner turmoil of Spider-Man represented ’60s America, for example, while The Black Panther and The Savage She-Hulk mirrored the travails of minorities and women.
Lee scripted most of Marvel’s superhero comics himself during the ’60s, including the Avengers and the X-Men, two of the most enduring. In 1972, he became Marvel’s publisher and editorial director; four years later, 72 million copies of Spider-Man were sold.
“He’s become our Mickey Mouse,” he once said of the masked, web-crawling crusader.
Lee also published several books, including “The Superhero Women” in 1977 and “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” the following year, when he was named publisher of the year by the Periodical and Book Association of America.
CBS turned the Hulk into a successful TV series, with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno portraying the doomed scientist from 1978-82. A Spider-Man series ran briefly in 1978. Both characters were featured in animated TV series as well.
The first big-budget movie based on Lee’s characters, “X-Men,” was a smash in 2000, earning more than $130 million at North American theaters. “Spider-Man” did even better, taking in more than $400 million in 2002.
Stanley Martin Lieber was born Dec. 28, 1922, in New York. He grew up a fan of “Hardy Boys” adventure books and Errol Flynn movies, and got a job at Timely Comics after graduating from high school.
Within a few months, the editor and art director quit, leaving the 17-year-old Lee with creative control over the company, which grew and was renamed Atlas Comics and, finally, Marvel. Lieber changed his name, thinking Lee would be used for “silly little comics” and his real name would be reserved for novels.
His early work largely reflected popular movies — westerns, crime dramas, romance, whatever was the rage at the time. He worked for about 50 cents per page.
After a stint in the Army during World War II, writing for training films, he was back at Marvel to begin a long and admittedly boring run of assembly line comic book production.
Comics in the 1950s were the subject of Senate hearings pushed by the Comics Code Authority, which frowned on gore and characters that questioned authority. Major comic book companies adopted the code as a form of self-regulation to avoid sanctions.
Lee said he was also working for a publisher who considered comics as fare only for children.
“One day I said, ‘This is insane,'” Lee told the Guardian in 1979. “I’m just doing the same type of stories as everybody else. I wasn’t taking pride in my work and I wanted to quit. But my wife said, ‘Look, why don’t you do the kind of comics you want for a change?'”
The result was the first issue of “The Fantastic Four,” in 1960, with the characters, plot and text from Lee and the illustrations by famed Marvel artist Jack Kirby.
The characters were normal people changed into reluctant superheroes through no fault of their own.
Writing in “Origins of Marvel Comics,” Lee described the quartet this way: “The characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to; they’d be flesh and blood, they’d have their faults and foibles, they’d be fallible and feisty and — most important of all — inside their colorful, costumed booties they’d still have feet of clay.”
“The Amazing Spider-Man” followed in 1962 and before long, Marvel Comics was an industry behemoth.
Lee knew his work was different, proudly noting that stories were drawn out over several issues not to make money but to better develop characters, situations and themes. He didn’t neglect his villains, either. One, the Moleman, went bad when he was ostracized because of his appearance, Lee wrote, adding it was “almost unheard of in a comic book” to explain why a character was what he was.
Lee’s direct influence faded in the 1970s as he gave up some of his editorial duties at Marvel. But with his trademark white mustache and tinted sunglasses, he was the industry’s most recognizable figure. He lectured widely on popular culture.
Lee moved to Los Angeles in 1981 to head Marvel Productions, an animation studio that was later purchased, along with Marvel Comics, for $50 million by New World Entertainment.
As sales of comics declined, Marvel was forced into bankruptcy proceedings that meant it had to void a lifetime contract prohibiting Lee from working for anyone else. Lee later sued Marvel for $10 million, saying the company cheated him out of millions in profits from movies based on his characters.
In 2000, Lee agreed to write stories for DC Comics, reinventing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and other signature characters for Marvel’s one-time rival. DC Vice President and Publisher Paul Levitz had nothing but praise when the agreement was made.
“With his artistic collaborators at Marvel, Stan co-created the richest imaginary universe a single comics writer has ever built,” he said.
The dapper, friendly comic book genius continued to work into his 90s on numerous projects, including comics, films and DVDs.
In the late 1990s, he looked to capitalize on the Internet craze, offering animated “Webisodes” of comic-like action. Stan Lee Media also sought to reach out to Web-savvy youth through deals with pop artists the Backstreet Boys and Mary J. Blige.
The company went bankrupt, and three men were indicted for allegedly defrauding the business in a check kiting scam. Lee wasn’t implicated.
After that initial failure, Lee formed the successful Pow! Entertainment company to launch animated Internet-based projects.
In wake of Lee’s death, a flood of notable names have started to paid tribute to the man whose imagination brought the Marvel Universe to life.
Robert Downey Jr.
“I owe it all to you. Rest in Peace Stan”
“There will never be another Stan Lee. For decades he provided both young and old with adventure, escape, comfort, confidence, inspiration, strength, friendship and joy. He exuded love and kindness and will leave an indelible mark on so, so, so many lives. Excelsior!!”
“Thanks for everything, Stan.”
How many millions of us are indebted to this guy, none more so than me. The father of Marvel has made so many people so incredibly happy. What a life and what a thing to have achieved. Rest in peace Stan.
“We’ve lost a creative genius. Stan Lee was a pioneering force in the superhero universe. I’m proud to have been a small part of his legacy and …. to have helped bring one of his characters to life.”
“Stan Lee created a universe where, if a character was beloved enough, they could never really die.
Now THAT’S thinking ahead.
Thanks for so much of my life. You’ll never not be in it.”
“His contribution to Pop Culture was revolutionary & cannot be overstated. He was everything you hoped he would be & MORE. I loved this man & will never stop missing him. They say you should never meet a childhood idol. They are wrong. #RIPStanTheMan”
Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company
“Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created. A super hero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain, and to connect. The scale of his imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart,”
Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios
“No one has had more of an impact on my career and everything we do at Marvel Studios than Stan Lee. Stan leaves an extraordinary legacy that will outlive us all. Our thoughts are with his daughter, his family, and his millions of fans. ”
Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group
“Original and genius are two very overused words in the world today, but Stan was both. Add irrepressible and irreplaceable, and you begin to describe the man. We have all lost a true superhero. We will greatly miss our friendly neighborhood Stan Lee.”
Shane Duffy, CEO of Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment
“We at Stan Lee’s Lee POW! Entertainment are saddened by the loss of our friend and mentor Stan Lee, the father of pop culture. His passing today marks a devastating and painful moment in time, but the legacy of Stan Lee, through his creative genius and his universes of characters, will continue to reach the world of true believers for generations to come. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the fans of not only his work, but of him, as a friend who made the world a better place. He was a true iconic pioneer with no comparable second. It has been an honor to work beside him.”
“Thank you, Stan, for making me not only the boy I was but also the man I am today. You had great power and you always used it responsibly, fostering billions of dreamers who all know your name – a name written in the stars for all time.”
“Thank you Stan Lee for making people who feel different realize they are special.”
Anthony and Joseph Russo
“Thank you for filling our childhoods with such joy. You will be dearly, dearly missed…”
“At age 7, I drew this weird portrait of Stan Lee and asked my Mom to send it to him. Thankfully she didn’t because 30+ years later, I got to give it to the great one in person. Thanks for all the fun Stan”
“THANK YOU, @TheRealStanLee. You gave us characters that continue to stand the test of time and evolve with our consciousness. You taught us that there are no limits to our future as long as we have access to our imagination. Rest in power! #EXCELSIOR #StanLee #rip”
“Safe passage, Mr. Lee. Thank you for all you gave the world, not the least your incredible sense of humor and insuppressible lust for life. It was a pleasure to know you. You are already missed.”
“What can I say about the loss of a visionary who created one of my favorite characters I’ve ever played? Stan Lee’s fun-loving wit, charm, and poetic legacy will keep him alive for generations to come. My heart hurts, and he will be sorely missed.”
“Rest in peace, Stan Lee. The many worlds of imagination & delight you created for humanity will last forever.”
CNN contributed to this report.