How Michael Crichton’s Widow Sherri Is Teaching Their Son About the Dad He Never Met (Exclusive)

Sherri has spent over a decade organizing and archiving Michael Crichton's research so his kids can "have a real understanding of how he worked"

<p>Sherri Crichton</p> Sherri and Michael Crichton in Hawaii in 2002.

Sherri Crichton

Sherri and Michael Crichton in Hawaii in 2002.

When author and director Michael Crichton died of cancer in 2008 at age 66, his widow Sherri was pregnant with their son, John Michael Todd Crichton. Since then, Sherri has done her best to make sure John Michael knows his father through the body of work he left behind.

Part of that is the new book Eruption, co-written by James Patterson, out June 3. It's the last novel from the writer and filmmaker who gave the world books like Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain and Congo, movies like Westworld and Coma, and the TV medical drama ER.

For more on Michael Crichton and James Patterson's collaboration, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

It took Sherri 15 years to find the right person to complete Eruption, which was unfinished when Crichton died. She chose Patterson, known for thrillers like Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls, because she knew he had the profile and the skill to do the her husband's final work justice. The book takes place on the Big Island of Hawaii, where a historic volcanic event is about to take place. But there’s another man-made force brewing that could cause even greater devastation.

Crichton began the manuscript in 1994 and worked on it, off and on, for the next 14 years. Sherri says he'd be proud to see it come to life.

'Eruption' by Michael Crichton and James Patterson.
'Eruption' by Michael Crichton and James Patterson.

"Jim did such an extraordinary job," she told PEOPLE for a story in this week's print issue. "I think this is a story that clearly was important to him, and it is undeserving of sitting in a file. I think he would be very excited that it's out and it's being told with such an incredible partner as Jim."

John Michael Jr., now 16, shares that excitement, in part because he's watched how carefully his mom preserves and protects what his dad left behind. "I've always worked really hard on Michael's legacy and in the archive and pulling all these pieces together, and he knows the meaning behind this book," she explains.

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"It's very exciting for him, and he's like, 'One day I'm going to do this, too,'" his mom continues. "And I'm like, 'You might learn from Jim himself.'"

Sherri has always encouraged her son's interest in his father's work. She tells a story from when he was 8 or so, when she was driving down Santa Monica Boulevard and noticed they'd pulled up between two buses plastered with advertisements for Westworld and Jurrasic Park, respectively.

<p>Murray Close</p> Michael Crichton (left) with Steven Spielberg on the set of Jurassic Park in 1993.

Murray Close

Michael Crichton (left) with Steven Spielberg on the set of Jurassic Park in 1993.

"I looked up, and I said, 'John Michael. do you see this? This is your father!'" Sherri relays. "You know, 20, 30, 40 years after the time he created it... his cultural footprint still lives on."

Sherri has created the Official Crichton Archives to "preserve and honor Michael's legacy," she explains. "When we took our vows in Hawaii, it was as partners for life, and I feel like now I've continued to be his partner, though he's not here physically. But we can be partners raising our son because Michael is just a plethora of information and knowledge."

Related: PEOPLE’s Best Books to Read in May 2024: An Intimate Portrait of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and a New Novel From Crazy Rich Asians Author

She notes that John Michael, as a typical teenager, is more concerned these days with passing his finals and heading into summer vacation than anything else. But thanks to her work, Crichton's will be there when his son is ready for it. (Crichton's daughter, Taylor Anne, from a previous marriage, was born in 1989.)

"It's really important for for his children to to have a real understanding of the way he worked, and how it made him tick," she explains.

Eruption comes out June 3 from Little, Brown and Company and is available for preorder now, wherever books are sold.

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