updated 5/23/2010 1:07:40 PM ET 2010-05-23T17:07:40

Prolific mathematics and science writer Martin Gardner, known for popularizing recreational mathematics and debunking paranormal claims, died Saturday. He was 95.

Gardner died Saturday after a brief illness at Norman Regional Hospital, his son James Gardner said. He had been living at an assisted living facility in Norman.

Martin Gardner was born in 1914 in Tulsa, Okla., and earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy at the University of Chicago.

He became a freelance writer, and in the 1950s wrote features and stories for several children's magazines. His creation of paper-folding puzzles led to his publication in Scientific American magazine, where he wrote his "Mathematical Games" column for 25 years.

The column introduced the public to puzzles and concepts such as fractals and Chinese tangram puzzles, as well as the work of artist M.C. Escher.

Allyn Jackson, deputy editor of Notices, a journal of the American Mathematical Society, wrote in 2005 that Gardner "opened the eyes of the general public to the beauty and fascination of mathematics and inspired many to go on to make the subject their life's work."

The 2010 Weird Science AwardsJackson said Gardner's "crystalline prose, always enlightening, never pedantic, set a new standard for high quality mathematical popularization."

The mathematics society awarded him its Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition in 1987 for his work on math, particularly his Scientific American column.

"He was a renaissance man who built new ideas through words, numbers and puzzles," his son, a professor of special education at the University of Oklahoma, told The Associated Press.

Gardner also became known as a skeptic of the paranormal and wrote columns for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. He wrote works debunking public figures such as psychic Uri Geller, who gained fame for claiming to bend spoons with his mind.

Most recently he wrote a feature published in Skeptical Inquirer's March/April on Oprah Winfrey's New Age interests.

Former magician James Randi, now a writer and investigator of paranormal claims, paid tribute to Gardner on his website Saturday, calling his colleague and longtime friend "a very bright spot in my firmament."

He ended his Scientific American column in 1981 and retired to Hendersonville, N.C. Gardner continued to write, and in 2002 moved to Norman, where his son lives.

Gardner wrote more than 50 books.

Gardner was preceded in death by his wife, Charlotte. Besides James Gardner, he is survived by another son, Tom, of Asheville, N.C.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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