Skip to main content

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

By Todd Leopold, CNN
May 14, 2014 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
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.

Click through to see people who passed away in 2014. Click through to see people who passed away in 2014.
People we lost in 2014
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: People we lost in 2014 Photos: People we lost in 2014
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.

People we've lost in 2014

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Click through our gallery to remember those we lost this year.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 1530 GMT (2330 HKT)
Northern Ireland's former first minister and former Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley has died. He was 88.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
Richard Kiel, the actor best known for playing the James Bond villain "Jaws," died at age 74 in a California hospital.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 2056 GMT (0456 HKT)
Actress Molly Glynn, who played an emergency room doctor on several "Chicago Fire" episodes, died from injuries after a tree fell on her during a storm.
S. Truett Cathy, the fast-food entrepreneur who turned a single restaurant into the multibillion-dollar Chick-fil-A empire, has died at age 93.
September 6, 2014 -- Updated 1757 GMT (0157 HKT)
Simone Battle, an "X Factor" finalist and G.R.L. singer, was found dead in a Los Angeles home, a coroner's spokesman said. She was 25.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 0226 GMT (1026 HKT)
Joan Rivers, the sassy comedian whose gossipy "can we talk" persona catapulted her into a career as a talk-show host, author and red-carpet maven, has died.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Jimi Jamison, who belted out the hits "The Search is Over" and "Burning Heart" for 1980s rock band Survivor, has died. He was 63.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
CNN lost a much loved and respected colleague with the sudden passing of photojournalist Sarmad Qaseera.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1954 GMT (0354 HKT)
Acclaimed actor-director Richard Attenborough has died at 90, the actor's agent said.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
The founder of the University of Phoenix, Dr. John G. Sperling, has died. He was 93.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Don Pardo, the announcer whose velvety baritone voice introduced "Saturday Night Live" hosts on NBC for decades, has died at age 96.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1934 GMT (0334 HKT)
Jim Jeffords, who shifted the balance of power in the Senate when he bolted from the Republican Party in 2001, died at age 80.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
Former Z-Boys skater Jay Adams died after a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico with his wife. He was 53.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Actress Arlene Martel, who "Star Trek" fans know as Spock's bride-to-be, died of complications from a heart attack. Martel was 78.
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Ed Nelson, best known for playing a doctor in the 1960s nighttime soap opera "Peyton Place," has died at 85.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 0308 GMT (1108 HKT)
Actress Lauren Bacall, known for her distinctive, husky voice and sultry sensuality, has died at age 89.
ADVERTISEMENT