Daniel Keyes (1927-2014)

Flowers for Algernon author Daniel Keyes died June 15 at the age of 86.

Keyes said his famous story grew from the question “What would happen if it were possible to increase human intelligence artificially?” The idea for the character “came about four years later when I met and spoke to a retarded young man and thought how wonderful it would be if such a technique were available to help the mentally disadvantaged.” Then, “After a great many false starts, I discovered the technique of the Progress Reports. With these three elements: the idea, the character, and the narrative strategy, I was well on my way.” 

The short story “Flowers for Algernon” was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1959 and won a Hugo Award. Keyes then expanded the story into a novel and that version won a Nebula Award in 1967.

Keyes’ story was adapted for stage, TV and movies. In 1961, the U.S. Steel Hour telecast “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon,” with Cliff Robertson as Charlie. Robertson also played the title character in the 1968 film Charly, a performance that earned him an Oscar.

Charly was nominated for the Hugo in 1969 but lost to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The story also was developed as both a stage play and a dramatic musical – Michael Crawford sang the lead in “Charlie and Algernon” at the Queen’s theater in London’s West End in 1979.

For one so well-known, Keyes was not a prolific writer. He produced two other genre novels, 10 short stories, and two nonfiction true crime books.

The true crime books were based on the life of Billy Milligan, who suffered from multiple personality disorder. That may account for why the German translation of his novel The Minds of Billy Milligan (Die Leben des Billy Milligan) won a Kurd Laßwitz Preis in 1986, an award given to science fiction. (It was also nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for an Edgar award.)

Daniel Keyes joined the faculty of Ohio University in 1966, and taught English and creative writing, becoming professor emeritus in 2000. His wife of over 60 years, Aurea Georgina Vaquez, passed away in 2013.

4 thoughts on “Daniel Keyes (1927-2014)

  1. A great short story, full of heart and soul, and Robertson gave a fantastic performance in the movie.

  2. My memory is jogged: Keyes said of the musical that the songwriters removed a tune for “Flowers” , and used it in another Broadway production. Annie. The tune was “Tomorrow”….

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