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H.R. Giger, who designed the creature from 'Alien,' dies at 74

By Todd Leopold, CNN
updated 6:46 AM EDT, Wed May 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • H.R. Giger created "Alien's" Xenomorph along with album covers
  • His work was distinguished by eerie, erotic combinations of human and machine
  • Giger said he was inspired by his dreams and nightmares

(CNN) -- H.R. Giger, the Swiss surrealist artist whose works of sexual-industrial imagery and design of the eponymous creature in the "Alien" movies were known around the world, has died. He was 74.

His death was confirmed by a statement from his longtime friend and manager, Leslie Barany.

"We are absolutely heartbroken over the loss of this loving husband, selfless friend and supremely talented artist," the statement read.

"He truly was one of a kind, committed to his craft, to his friends and to his family. His warm personality, incredible generosity and sharp sense of humor were in stark contrast with the universe he depicted in his art."

Giger's art -- often featuring skeletal, tentacled, protomechanical (Giger called them "biomechanical") figures rendered in shades of blue-gray and brown -- was a mainstay of dorm-room bookshelves and science-fiction hallucinations. Among his most widely known works was the cover for Emerson, Lake & Palmer's 1973 album "Brain Salad Surgery."

But he's probably best known for his design of the Alien, the extraterrestrial species in Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi/horror film "Alien" and its sequels.

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Sigourney Weaver meets the Alien in 1986\'s \
Sigourney Weaver meets the Alien in 1986's "Aliens."

With its oblong, skull-like head, dozens of teeth, narrow torso and spiny, whip-quick tail, it was a fearsome creature that salivated acid and appeared to come and go at will. Indeed, the being that terrorizes the spaceship in the first film literally explodes out of actor John Hurt's chest before skittering away.

Encouraged by "Alien" screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, Scott turned to Giger after seeing similar creatures in the artist's 1977 book, "Necronomicon." Giger and the special effects team won an Oscar for their work.

The Alien, also known as the Xenomorph, later appeared in "Aliens" (1986), "Alien 3" (1992), "Alien: Resurrection" (1997), "Alien vs. Predator" (2004) and its 2007 sequel, and -- in somewhat different form -- "Prometheus" (2012).

Giger, who called the creatures "my monsters," told CNN in 2011 that his work was, indeed, shaped by nightmares.

"I feel very, very safe and happy and I have no more nightmares, but at the time, in earlier days, I could heal myself through doing my work," he said.

Barany's statement addressed Giger's fondness for the Xenomorph.

"It was certainly a design which Giger prized, much as he took great pride in his collaboration with myriads of music industry and film artists, since he began his glorious journey as a world-class painter, sculptor and designer," read the statement.

Hans Rudolf Giger was born on February 5, 1940, in Chur, Switzerland. The son of a pharmacist, he showed a talent for drawing at an early age and originally trained to be an architect. But he maintained a separate life as an artist, turning to the field fulltime in the 1960s.

He had a longterm relationship with actress Li Tobler, who served as the model for several of his works. Tobler committed suicide in 1975. Giger was married twice; he is survived by his wife, Carmen Maria Scheifele Giger.

In the late '60s, a friend published a number of Giger's works as posters. Within a couple years, he was in demand by galleries and curators. In 1974, Giger was asked to do the design for Alejandro Jodorowsky's doomed version of "Dune," now the subject of a documentary, "Jodorowsky's Dune." Among the other participants in "Dune" was one of Giger's heroes, the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali.

Giger also created the cover for Debbie Harry's 1981 album "Koo Koo," which featured the Blondie singer with long needles impaling her face, and was a designer on the 1996 film "Species."

His work was much praised.

"I think his ideas are very existential," Norwegian curator Stina Hogkvist told CNN in 2011. "What makes up a human being; when does a life start, when does it end; what is natural and what is unnatural. It's always interesting and always relevant."

In later years, Giger had his own museum in Gruyeres, Switzerland. It included his own work, as well as pieces by Dali and Ernst Fuchs.

His life, Giger said in 2011, had grown much calmer.

"I have not to work absolutely now. I like to be free to dream," he said.

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