May 25, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

It was a sad day in outer space. On May 11, British-born satirist Douglas Adams, 49, whose 1979 novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its four sequels combined humor about everyday life with outrageous sci-fi shenanigans, died of a heart attack at his Santa Barbara, Calif., home. His Hitchhiker, born in 1978 as a radio play, follows luckless Arthur Dent and alien companion Ford Prefect in their search for the meaning of life. (The answer: 42.) The cult hit spawned adaptations in print and TV — even a groundbreaking 1984 computer game. ”He expanded the things that annoy one in life to a cosmic sense, to make them even more ridiculous,” says actor Simon Jones, star of both the radio show and the BBC’s 1981 Guide miniseries. Adams had been working on a film version for Disney with Meet the Parents director Jay Roach. ”It’s on indefinite hold,” says Roach. ”Douglas had nailed it in the last script. He was able to be both silly and supremely intelligent at the same time.”

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