A Tribute to Michael Crichton (Oct. 23, 1942 – Nov. 4, 2008)

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The Gorilla Foundation is deeply saddened over the untimely passing of Dr. Michael Crichton, who served on the Foundation’s Board of Directors since 2003. Dr. Crichton’s novel Congo, published in 1980, was inspired by the work of Dr. Penny Patterson with Koko, the gorilla who learned to communicate in sign language.

Dr. Crichton applied his amazingly fertile imagination to create a scenario in which his gorilla heroine, Amy, also sign language proficient, becomes caught up in an adventure saga involving her return to her African homeland.

As Dr. Crichton explained on his website: “When the book was published (Congo), most reviewers found the character of Amy, the sign-language-using gorilla, too incredible to believe. This despite the fact that I had modeled Amy on a real signing gorilla, Koko, then at Stanford University. I considered Koko to be pretty famous. After all, she had been twice on the cover of National Geographic magazine, and once on the cover of the New York Times magazine. Koko had also been interviewed on television, where with quick hand gestures she complained about the bright lights, and told the TV interviewer to go away. But apparently, book reviewers had never heard of Koko.” Dr. Crichton’s interest in gorillas and interspecies communication continued throughout his life, and we were thrilled when he accepted our invitation to join the Board of Directors. Always busy writing, or launching some new project, he nevertheless found time to offer his wise guidance to many of our efforts and was always there to offer sound advice. He was a truly original thinker, a man of many talents, and a fine writer. We will miss his kindness, his strength and his wisdom.