Astronomer Carl Sagan, a gifted storyteller who extolled and explored the grandeur and mystery of the universe in lectures, books and an acclaimed TV series, died here today after a two-year battle with bone-marrow disease.
Dr. Sagan, 62, was surrounded by his family when he died of pneumonia at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where he had received a bone-marrow transplant in April 1995 and occasionally returned for treatment, center spokeswoman Susan Edmonds said. Dr. Sagan had myelodysplasia, a form of anemia also known as pre-leukemia syndrome.
Dr. Sagan, who lived in Ithaca, N.Y., helped transport an ivory-tower realm into the living rooms of ordinary people, enthralling millions with his vivid writing and flamboyant television soliloquies.
He won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1978 for "The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence."
In 1980, his 13-part Public Broadcasting Service series "Cosmos" became the most-watched limited series in the history of U.S. public television, a record since surpassed by "The Civil War."
The series turned him into a celebrity. Comics parodied his references to "billions and billions" of stars. Although purists complained that he sometimes oversimplified and made significant interpretive errors, Dr. Sagan never shied away from the label of science popularizer.
Aside from his flair for making scientific ideas comprehensible and exciting, Dr. Sagan built up an impressive research record and always insisted that scientific investigation was his top priority.
"From when I was a little kid, the only thing I really wanted to be was a scientist, to actually do the science, to interrogate nature, to find out how things work," he said. "That's where the fun is. If you're in love, you want to tell the world!"
In his early 20s, Dr. Sagan deduced from experimental models that Venus, long considered a habitable planet, was actually a forbidding place with a surface heat of about 900 degrees.
While teaching astronomy at Harvard in the 1960s, he established that fierce winds that sculpted the landscape, not seasonal changes in vegetation, explained the bright and dark patterns detected on Mars.
In 1968, Dr. Sagan accepted an invitation from Cornell University in Ithaca to set up a laboratory for planetary studies.
Having helped design robotic missions for NASA since the late 1950s, Dr. Sagan made use of space-mission data in lab simulations to draw lessons about dust storms on Mars or the greenhouse effect of Venus.
Dr. Sagan began publishing at 22. Most of his early works were academic papers and books. His 30th book, titled "Demon Haunted World," was published in the fall of 1995. An earlier novel, "Contact," (1985) became a best seller.
He began experimenting with the popular market in 1973, publishing "The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective."
"Cosmos," winner of three Emmys, retraced the 15 billion years of cosmic evolution that have transformed matter into life and consciousness.
Co-written by his wife, Ann Druyan, it first aired in 1980 and was seen by more than 500 million people in 60 countries.
In his 1994 "Cosmos" sequel, "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space," Dr. Sagan visualized humankind several centuries from now, concluding that humans need to settle other worlds in order to survive.
Born in New York City on Nov. 9, 1934, Dr. Sagan said he had fully expected to follow his Russian-born father into the garment industry but began to chart a career in astronomy while at high school in Rahway, N.J.
He earned a physics degree from the University of Chicago in 1954 and a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics in 1960. He was appointed lecturer and assistant professor of astronomy at Harvard in 1962.
In 1971, he became a full professor at Cornell.
Dr. Sagan, who received a bone-marrow transplant in Seattle in April 1995, returned to the Hutchinson Center in December 1995 after tests showed abnormality in his white blood cells, his wife said at the time. He was re-admitted to the Hutchinson Center in July for diagnosis and further treatment of myelodysplasia.
During the time they spent in Seattle, the Sagans rented a home in The Highlands. Their daughter, Alex Sagan, attended Lakeside School.
While here, Dr. Sagan ate at the Space Needle and took long walks and a ferry ride.
Dr. Sagan said he chose Seattle for treatment of his illness after making inquiries and after speaking to a Harvard University doctor, who said that if he were seeking treatment, he would go to Seattle.
Dr. Sagan had spent time in Seattle in 1974, when he was the Danz visiting professor at the University of Washington.
Dr. Sagan occasionally journeyed into the political arena, pushing for more government funding of space missions and stricter measures to counter the environmental threats of ozone depletion and global warming.
As for UFOs, lost continents and the like, Dr. Sagan said the world could ill afford such pseudoscientific twaddle.
"We sometimes pretend something is true not because there's evidence for it but because we want it to be true," he said.
Dr. Sagan was a firm believer in the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence, noting that organic molecules, the kind on which life on Earth depends, appear to be almost everywhere in the solar system.
Dr. Sagan is survived by his wife, five children, a grandson and his sister, Cari Sagan Greene, of Charleston, W.Va., who was the donor for his bone-marrow transplant.
Material from Seattle Times staff reporters is included in this report. Links to Web sites about Carl Sagan are available through The Seattle Times Top Stories Web site at: http://www.seattletimes.com