CLEVELAND: Death has silenced American literature’s “mouth that roared.” Death was the only thing that could have silenced the ever-outspoken Harlan Ellison, who died in his sleep Thursday at age 84.

In 1993, when the prolific writer from Cleveland was named a regular commentator on cable’s Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy), he told TV critics, “I enjoy doing this because it permits me the opportunity to annoy hundreds of thousands of people all at once.”

Ellison reveled in the role of firebrand, no doubt, once describing himself as “a yapping dog with mean little teeth.” And many a Hollywood executive and unprepared interviewer found out the hard way that his bite was every bit as bad as his bark.

His outbursts were legendary, sometimes costing him jobs and friendships, yet, behind all the bluster, there was a serious artist who cared so much for writing, he deemed it nothing less than “a holy chore.”

He also was an artist who used his celebrity status to fight for civil rights in the ’60s and the intellectual rights of writers in the internet era. One of his proudest moments was marching in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery with Martin Luther King Jr.

The Washington Post hailed Ellison as “one of the great living American short story writers.” And, in 1982, Stephen King said of him, “When you take it right back down home, you come to this: the man is a ferociously talented writer.”

The jacket for one of his books described him as “possibly the most contentious person on Earth,” and Ellison was quick to take to the courts if he believed himself wronged. He alleged that James Cameron’s 1984 film, The Terminator, drew substantially from his Outer Limits story Soldier. Over Cameron’s objections, the film company settled out of court for an undisclosed sum and added a credit acknowledging Ellison’s work.