Johnson dropped out of school in the eighth grade — and then asked his mother for permission to run away. After a stint in the Army, he enrolled at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), but quit that, too, to travel, which was funded by being a draftsman, before deciding he’d rather be a writer. In 1959 he wrote a TV story for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“I’ll Take Care of You”), which led to many more writing assignments from magazines and TV shows, including The Twilight Zone, and the first televised episode of Star Trek (“The Man Trap” — a shape-shifting “salt monster” alien gets loose on the Enterprise). Johnson is best known for his novel Logan’s Run (written with William F. Nolan), which was made into a film in 1976. Johnson also wrote a story (with Jack Golden Russell) that was made into the movie Ocean’s 11 — in both 1960 and 2001.
In some of his writings, Johnson tackled death. In a 1962 Twilight Zone episode (“Nothing in the Dark”), Robert Redford plays the spectre of death, who is to call upon an elderly woman (played by Dame Gladys Cooper). The woman hides in her apartment to avoid him, but he eventually gets to her to tell her, “You see? No shock. No engulfment. No tearing asunder. What you feared would come like an explosion is like a whisper. What you thought was the end is the beginning.” — and leads her out to the sunshine. Johnson died December 25 from bladder cancer, at 86.