Stan Lee, the godfather of Marvel Comics whose cast of characters such as Spider-Man, the Hulk and the X-Men were beloved by millions of readers for decades before becoming a multibillion-dollar movie empire that dominated box offices in the 21st century, has died. He was 95.
Lee’s representative, Dawn Miller, confirmed he died Monday in Los Angeles.
Born Stanley Martin Lieber on Dec. 28, 1922, in New York City, Lee started his career as an office assistant at Timely Comics in 1939. As a teen, Lee said he was working odd jobs to help his parents pay the bills, when he heard about the position.
“I must’ve been the only one who applied because I got the job, and I thought it would be a temporary job,” Lee said in 2011. “I had never thought of writing comics.”
At the time, Lee said, comics were thought of as a children’s novelty, but as time went on “it got more and more interesting” and he stayed with it.
In the early 1960s, Timely Comics was renamed Marvel Comics and in an attempt to compete with DC Comics’ hit title “Justice League of America,” Lee, along with artist Jack Kirby, created the Fantastic Four.
What followed were comic book dynamos like Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and the X-Men.
“What Stan did in the ’60s was really to go out there and evangelize, to be a P.T. Barnum or a Sol Hurok, a promoter of the fact that comics weren’t just a children’s medium and certainly not just a stupid children’s medium,” Paul Levitz, a longtime comics writer, executive, and historian, told Vulture.
By 1972, Lee rose to the top of Marvel Comics, being named the company’s editorial director and publisher.
Lee became known for his dynamic copy and emphasis on social issues, helping make the medium a beloved cornerstone of pop culture.
“Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created. A super hero 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,” Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company, said Monday.
After almost 60 years with Marvel, Lee left to create his own group, Stan Lee Media in 1998. He kept a hand in Marvel, being named the company’s chairman emeritus.
But Stan Lee Media was short-lived, and in February 2001, the company filed for bankruptcy. In 2004 Stan “The Man” Lee was back in business with Pow Entertainment, where he continued developing new characters and franchises.
Marvel got its second life with a score of films and televisions series in the late 2000s through the 2010s. Lee served as executive producer on dozens of the new Marvel incarnations. In almost every film, Lee appeared in short cameo roles to the delight of his fans.
Although he continued to work until the end of his life, Lee noted in his later years that he struggled to enjoy the medium he used to bring joy to many millions of people.
“My eyesight has gotten terrible and I can’t read comic books anymore,” he told Radio Times in 2016. “The print is too small. Not only a comic book, but I can’t read the newspaper or a novel or anything. I miss reading 100 percent. It’s my biggest miss in the world.”
The moment was a rare break in character for Lee, who continued developing new superhero ideas well into his 90s. He even continued to charmed fans at meet-and-greets, signing off with his signature phrase, “Excelsior!”
Lee’s wife, Joan, died of a stroke in July 2017.
Following her death, Lee connected himself with Keya Morgan, a New York-based memorabilia collector, who he described in June as his “only partner and business manager.” During that partnership, Lee sued POW! Entertainment for $1 billion, but later dropped the suit.
By August, a restraining order was levied against Morgan, who had been accused of elder abuse by Lee’s lawyers. Morgan maintained that Lee was a dear friend, and he would have never done anything to hurt him.
The restraining order meant Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee, and her attorneys resumed their roles as the managers of Lee’s business and assets.