We all knew he was sick, but of course you never expect it to happen.
I'd read a few Ballard pieces in Mike Moorcock's New Worlds when I was a kid. They were a struggle at the time, since I was more interested in rocket ships than inner space at that age, but I read them nevertheless. I read The Drowned World, The Drought, The Crystal World and The Wind From Nowhere as a pre-teen. Much easier going. It wasn't until my mother stuck Crash back into the library bag with "I'm not reading any more of that pornography!" that I realized there was more to Ballard than a strangely angled Cosy Catastrophe. (Perhaps I'd forgotten all those New Worlds shorts already.) Then I read Crash - and everything I could about him. the Re/Search issue on him is a gem.
It evidently worked - I won a competition in the semi-prozine Interzone for a Ballard pastiche, a condensed novel (less than a page long), a novelization of the movie Alien as filmed by David Cronenberg. Sad to say I haven't kept up with the newer (post eighties) output as well I could have. Ballard and Dick are my favorite authors and now neither of them are around any more. Sad indeed, but as some of my friends are saying, his death could be his big break. Looking forward to those American re-issues of his work. But still sad. RIP.
Guardian obituary by David Pringle (who adds, "Inevitably, the paper has hacked it about a bit, but not too severely. A couple of sentences no longer read as well as they should -- and one idiocy has been inserted: JGB was interviewed in Shanghai in 1991 for a TV programme broadcast in 2004. (No! It was shown on BBC 2 in 1991 -- and then repeated on BBC 4 in 2004.)"
More info at Ballardian.