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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Best-selling U.S. author Michael Crichton, who wrote such novels as "The Andromeda Strain" and "Jurassic Park" and created the popular TV drama "ER," has died unexpectedly of cancer at age 66, his family said on Wednesday.
Crichton, a medical doctor turned novelist and filmmaker whose books have sold more than 150 million copies worldwide, died on Tuesday in Los Angeles after what his family described as a "courageous and private battle against cancer."
"Michael's talent out-scaled even his own dinosaurs of 'Jurassic Park,'" filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who directed the blockbuster movie version of that novel and its sequel, "The Lost World," said in a statement. "He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the Earth."
Spielberg added: "Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels. There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place."
The family statement, which was released through a publicist, called Crichton's death "unexpected" but released few other details about his passing and requested privacy.
Born in Chicago on October 23, 1942, Crichton wrote his first novels while attending Harvard Medical School. He was awarded his medical degree in 1969, the same year his first major best seller, "The Andromeda Strain," was published.
A global warming skeptic, he stirred controversy with his 2004 best-seller on the subject, "State of Fear," in which the main villains are eco-terrorists.
Most of his work reflected his medical training, including "The Andromeda Strain," a techno-thriller about scientists battling a space-borne killer microorganism.
"Andromeda" also was the first novel by Crichton to be made into a Hollywood film. He followed that success with "The Terminal Man," "The Great Train Robbery" and "Congo."
He wrote and directed the 1973 film "Westworld," starring Yul Brynner as a robot gunslinger run amok in a futuristic theme park. It was the first major Hollywood film to use computer digitized images and spawned a short-lived TV series.
But Crichton remains best known for "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World," which became two of the top-grossing films of the 1990s. He co-wrote the screenplay for "Jurassic Park" and for the 1996 tornado thriller "Twister."
Also during the 1990s he published such popular novels as "Rising Sun," "Disclosure," and "Timeline." He followed in this decade with "Prey," "State of Fear" and "Next."
His 1976 novel "Eaters of the Dead" was made into the 1999 film "The 13th Warrior."
Crichton won a number of writing and film awards and an Emmy for his work on "ER," the popular and long-running NBC television hospital drama currently in its final season.
"While the world knew him as a great storyteller that challenged our preconceived notions about the world around us -- and entertained us all while doing so -- his wife Sherri, daughter Taylor, 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 the statement.
"He did this with a wry sense of humor that those who were privileged to know him personally will never forget."
Editing by Sandra Maler