UPDATE: A longer essay about Terry Pratchett’s contribution to science fiction can be read here.

Terry Pratchett, the legendary fantasy author behind the Discworld series, died of natural causes earlier today, The Assocated Press reports. Pratchett had been suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease; his publisher says that he died “with his cat sleeping on his bed surrounded by his family.” He was 66.

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Pratchett, who began his career as a journalist, published his first novel, The Carpet People, in 1971. He followed that book with the sci-fi novels The Dark Side Of The Sun in 1976 and Strata in 1981. In 1983 he published The Color Of Magic, the first in what would eventually become more than 40 Discworld novels. As the comic fantasy series grew in popularity, Pratchett published an average of two books a year, eventually becoming the U.K.’s best-selling author of the 1990s. Besides sci-fi and fantasy, Pratchett also wrote horror fiction and a series of well-received children‘s novels. His books have sold more than 65 million copies worldwide, and he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009.

Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzhemier’s in 2007. He continued to write as his condition worsened, eventually turning to a dictation system when he could no longer type on a word processor. He completed what would be his last book, The Shepherd’s Crown, last summer; it is set to be published later this year. In his later years, Pratchett became a vocal advocate for physician-assisted suicide, although, as The Independent points out, Death had been a character in Pratchett’s work since long before his diagnosis. In a manner appropriate to his frank, humorous attitude towards the subject, Pratchett’s death was announced in a series of tweets on his official Twitter page:

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