No, he's not dead yet. But he believes he will be soon. This weekend is his last convention appearance ever. Here's an interview with him on the subject:
Harlan is simultaneously the last living grandmaster of the Golden Age of science fiction, and the rebellious Young Turk who almost singlehandedly brought down the Golden Age and created the Next Wave.
He was Issac Asimov's best friend, and the spiritual father of William Gibson and the entire cyber-punk genre.
He was probably the finest TV critic of the 1970s, and in my opinion his short story "Collection The Deathbird Stories" is one of the best written, and darkest, things I have ever read.
He is deserving of recognition as one of the US' great literary masters, and he will NEVER get that since he is a "sci-fi " author.
As a science fiction fan, not reading Ellison is a sin on the order of having never read any Asimov, Heinlein, or Anderson (Poul not Kevin). It probably won't earn you eternal damnation, but its still not something you'd want to admit outloud in a group of geeks
I've never met him in person, but after reading his body of work and seeing his struggles over the years, I can only defend the man thusly:
1. His overarching message is that writers are, aside from directors and a few actors of quality, responsible for the creative process in Hollywood and the written arts. They are also among the most poorly paid, lied to, double crossed and unappreciated members of this limited group. He's worked in print, TV and film and has in most cases a reason for his attitude. I do agree being a short, cantankerous type from the get-go has not helped him.
2. Creativity breeds smugness. This is nothing new. When you've won as many awards as he has in the industry, you develop a certain arrogance, and in the face of people who have a good dose of "I Don't Give A Shit Who You Are," the smugness is even more palpable because he's trying to win a battle of competing egos.
3. Ellison is incredibly smart and hates dumb questions, and above all people wasting his time. Ellison is known for his distaste of watered-down literary classics which are the staple of standard education, and I am sure he would give any number of alternate examples of better fiction that can and should be taught in high school and college. Listening to him, he has a great deal of contempt for how dumb our society is on many levels, not the least of which is a cultural illiteracy and a lack of appreciation for good writing (see point #1).
He will be missed along with Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury (may he live long) as one of the giants of fantasy/alternative literature. It's selfish of me, but I do hope Harlan hangs in there a while longer. Once he's gone, the universe will be just a bit poorer for his loss.
And if there is a Heaven, let us hope that Issac Asimov will hold Gene Roddenberry down so Harlan can beat the shit out of him.