Stan Lee, Marvel Comic Book Legend, Dies at 95

The former Marvel publisher transformed the comic-book industry with his enduring creations and leaves behind a multibillion-dollar entertainment empire.
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Stan Lee Photo

Stan Lee of 'Comic-Con Episode IV - A Fan's Hope' poses for a portrait during the 2011 Toronto Film Festival at the Guess Portrait Studio on September 10, 2011 in Toronto, Canada. 

Comic-book legend Stan Lee died today, November 12, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. The 95-year-old Renaissance man—whose extensive résumé includes such titles as writer, publisher, producer and president of Marvel Comics—had grown visibly frail in recent years, and had scaled back his public appearances since having a pacemaker surgically installed in 2012. 

Despite this, until the end, Lee had remained both an active and important part of the comics community, appearing at conventions and signings around the world and continuing a lifelong dialogue with fans through his blog and Twitter account, which boasts more than 3 million followers. Indeed, Lee, whose career in comics began in 1939, had only become more influential with time, transforming a job as a lowly assistant into a multibillion-dollar entertainment empire and revolutionizing the comic-book industry along the way.

Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber, on December 28, 1922, in New York City. The firstborn son of Jewish-Hungarian immigrants, he attended high school in the Bronx and held a variety of jobs, including writing obituaries for a news service. 

After graduating early, at the age of 16, Lieber landed a job as an assistant at the Timely Comics division of a company headed by publisher Martin Goodman. There he found himself working alongside the likes of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the creators of Captain America and two of the most important figures during the so-called Golden Age of comics. Lieber's first published contribution at Timely would be a small text piece in a 1941 issue of Captain America, for which he used the pseudonym "Stan Lee," and when Simon and Kirby left Timely later that year, Lee was appointed interim editor.

After serving in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, Lee returned to Timely, and in his role as editor he wrote for a wide range of genres, including Westerns and romances. He also found himself in a real-life romance with hat model Joan Boocock, and in 1947 the two began their 70-year marriage. 

During the decade that followed, Lee's family life bloomed: He and Joan bought a house on Long Island, and Joan gave birth to two daughters. Lee's career, however, was foundering. Although he continued to write for Timely, which had by that time been renamed Atlas, his heart wasn't in it, and he contemplated leaving the industry altogether.

But everything changed when, in the late 1950s, DC Comics successfully revived the superhero genre with a retooled series featuring the classic character the Flash, as well as a new series about a group of heroes called the Justice League of America. Looking to keep pace with DC, Goodman assigned Lee the task of creating his own group of heroes, and the rest is comics history. In 1961, Timely was rebranded as Marvel Comics, and that November saw the debut of the Fantastic Four, Lee's first creation in a long string of what are among the most famous and lasting of all comic-book superheroes, including Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men. 

What was perhaps most significant about Lee's characters was their humanity. Flawed and vulnerable in spite of their superhuman powers, they stand in stark contrast to the pillars of perfection that populated the pages of comics' Golden Age. They also proved highly successful, boosting sales significantly at Marvel Comics and propelling Lee's career to new heights.

Stan Lee Photo

Stan Lee attends Madame Tussauds Las Vegas on February 28, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

As Marvel's editor, art director, marketing manager and more, Lee not only introduced compelling new characters to the industry, he also changed the way that comic books came together. He created a collaborative workflow between writers and artists (which became known as the "Marvel Method") and added a page to comics that credited everyone involved in their projects. Lee was also instrumental in building a thriving comic-book community by communicating directly with fans through various forums, including a monthly column called "Stan's Soapbox."

When Martin Goodman left Marvel Comics in 1972, Lee became its publisher, and for the next decade he continued oversight of the creation of new characters and series at the company. In the 1980s, he moved to Los Angeles, California, to explore new outlets for Marvel, assuming the role of producer for the Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk TV series, among others. 

Building on his new foundation in television and film, Lee in 1998 founded the production company Stan Lee Media with his business partner Peter Paul. After Paul was arrested and convicted of violating SEC regulations, however, Stan Lee Media was forced to file for bankruptcy.

Despite these complications, the 2000s would prove to be one of the most successful and lucrative decades of Lee's lengthy career. With hit films such as the X-Men and Spider-Man series, to name just a few, Lee's legendary comic-book heroes were brought to a whole new generation of fans and a wider audience than ever before. Lee also published two autobiographies during this time, including Excelsior!: The Amazing Life of Stan Lee (2002) and Amazing Fantastic Incredible (2015). Additionally, his successful lawsuit against Marvel Comics for unpaid Spider-Man royalties brought him a $10 million settlement. 

Although Lee's passing brings to an end one of the greatest careers in comic-book history, the endless list of TV series, video games, movies, toys and commercials—past, present and future—that feature his creations are the greatest testament to what will surely be a long-lasting legacy.