The great writer, editor, and publisher of Marvel Comics creations Stan Lee, made himself a real-life superhero between the comic book lovers all over the world, has died. He was 95.
Stan Lee began in the business in 1939 and created or co-created Black Panther, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil and Ant-Man, among countless other characters, died early Monday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a family spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter.
Kirk Schenck, an attorney-at-law for Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee, also confirmed his death.
Lee’s final few years were disturbing. After Joan, his wife of 69 years, died in July 2017, he sued executives at POW! Entertainment — a company he established in 2001 to produce films, TV and video game businesses — claiming for $1 billion fraud, then abruptly lost the suit weeks later. He also sued his ex-business manager and filed for a controlling order against a man who had been handling his assignments. (Lee’s estate is expected to be worth as much as $70 million.) And in June 2018, it was announced that the Los Angeles Police Department had been investigating news of elder abuse against him.
On his own and through his work with various artist-writer collaborators Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others, Lee made Marvel from a tiny enterprise into the world’s No. 1 publisher of comic books and, later, a multimedia giant.
In 2009, The Walt Disney Co. acquired Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, and most of the top-grossing superhero films of all time — led by Avengers: Infinity War’s $2.05 billion worldwide take earlier this year — have highlighted Marvel characters.
“I used to think what I did was not very important,” he told the Chicago Tribune in April 2014. “People are building bridges and engaging in medical research, and here I was preparing stories about fictional characters who do extraordinary, crazy stuff and wear outfits. But I suppose I have come to realize that entertainment is not easily removed.”
Lee’s popularity and reputation as the face and figurehead of Marvel, even in his last few years, continued considerable.
“Stan Lee was as amazing as the characters he designed,” Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “A superhero 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.”
Marvel Studios chairman Kevin Feige too paid tribute. “No one has had more of an impact on my career and everything we do at Marvel Studios than Stan Lee,” Feige spoke. “Stan leaves an extraordinary legacy that will outlive us all. Our thoughts are with his daughter, his family and the millions of fans who have been forever touched by Stan’s genius, charisma, and heart.”
Lee was named interim editor at 19 by publisher Martin Goodman when the previous editor quit. In 1942, he enlisted in the Army and served in the Signal Corps, where he wrote textbooks and training movies with a group that included Oscar-winner Frank Capra, Pulitzer-winner William Saroyan and Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss). After the war, he returned to the publisher and served as the editor for years.
Following DC Comics’ lead with the Justice League, Lee and Kirby in November 1961 launched their own superhero team, the Fantastic Four, for the newly renamed Marvel Comics, and Hulk, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Daredevil and X-Men soon developed. The Avengers launched as its own name in September 1963.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Manhattan’s high-literary culture vultures did not give its approval on how Lee was making a living. People would “avoid me like I had the plague. … Today, it’s so different,” he once told The Washington Post.
Not everyone felt the same way, though. Lee recalled once being visiting in his New York office by Federico Fellini, who wanted to chat about Spider-Man.
In 1972, Lee was named publisher and relinquished the Marvel editorial reins to spend all his time promoting the company. He moved to Los Angeles in 1980 to set up an animation studio and to build relationships in Hollywood. Lee purchased a home overlooking the Sunset Strip that was once owned by Jack Benny’s announcer, Don Wilson.
Long before his Marvel characters made it to the movies, they appeared on television. An animated Spider-Man show (with a memorable theme song composed by Oscar winner Paul Francis Webster, of “The Shadow of Your Smile” fame, and Bob Harris) ran on ABC from 1967 to 1970. Bill Bixby played Dr. David Banner, who turns into a green monster (Lou Ferrigno) when he gets agitated, in the 1977-82 CBS drama The Incredible Hulk. And Pamela Anderson provided the voice of Stripperella, a risque animated Spike TV series that Lee wrote for in 2003-04.
Lee launched the internet-based Stan Lee Media in 1998, and the superhero creation, production, and marketing studio went public a year later. However, when investigators uncovered illegal stock manipulation by his partners, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001. (Lee was never charged.)
In 2002, Lee published an autobiography, Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee.
Survivors include his daughter and younger brother Larry Lieber, a writer and artist for Marvel. Another daughter, Jan, died in infancy. His wife, Joan, was a hat model whom he married in 1947.
“J.C. Lee and all of Stan Lee’s friends and colleagues want to thank all of his fans and well-wishers for their kind words and condolences,” a family statement read. “Stan was an icon in his field. His fans loved him and his desire to interact with them. He loved his fans and treated them with the same respect and love they gave him.”
“He worked tirelessly his whole life creating great characters for the world to enjoy. He wanted to inspire our imagination and for us to all use it to make the world a better place. His legacy will live on forever.”
Like Alfred Hitchcock before him, the never-bashful Lee appeared in cameos in the Marvel movies, shown avoiding falling concrete, watering his lawn, delivering the mail, crashing a wedding, playing a security guard, etc.
In Spider-Man 3 (2007), he chats with Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker as they stop on a Times Square street to read the news that the web-slinger will soon receive the key to the city. “You know,” he says, “I guess one person can make a difference … ‘Nuff said.”