We were devastated to learn via the BBC that actor Kenny Baker has passed away today after a long illness, just short of his 82nd birthday.
Baker was the man who brought R2-D2 to life, working inside the costume in the first six Star Wars movies and consulting in The Force Awakens. He also appeared in a number of other films, including an old favorite, Time Bandits, as Fidget.
Baker had been cared for by his nephew Drew Myerscough for a number of years, after he had developed respiratory issues, although this did not stop him from making appearances. One of the first actors willing to make appearances at conventions, he was scheduled for his only U.S. appearance later this year at Rhode Island Comic Con. His nephew said, “His fans worldwide kept him going and he loved nothing more than going to conventions and meeting everybody – it really gave him that extra lease of life.”
I was sadly notified yesterday that actor-turned-radio show host Jerry Doyle, who played Michael Garibaldi on Babylon 5, passed away suddenly at the age of 60, which has been confirmed by his family. The cause of death has not been determined.
After Babylon 5, he turned his eye on politics. A staunch conservative, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican in 2000, but spent little money on the campaign and only received 30% of the vote. He then became a nationally syndicated radio talk show host. He also created the website and podcast Epic Times.
Babylon 5‘s creator J. Michael Straczynski released a statement on his death.
Babylon 5 has lost many of its cast members far too soon, having already lost Andreas Katsulas, Richard Biggs, Michael O’Hare, and Jeff Conaway.
Actor Anton Yelchin, who has been playing the role of PAvel Checkov in the three recent Star Trek movies, as well as roles in Terminator: Salvation and Alphas Dogs among others, passed away early this morning in a freak automobile accident at the age of 27.
It appears that Yelchin had exited his car while it was running, and it rolled, pinning him against a brick post next to a security gate, suffering traumatic injuries.
Yelchin was born in St. Petersburg, Russia (back then it was still called Leningrad as part of the Soviet Union), but emigrated with his parents (professional figure skaters ho qualified for the 1972 Olympics but because they were Jewish were not permitted to represent the USSR) to the United States when he was only 6 months old. His parents went on to become skating instructors, but at a young age he showed more interest in acting than skating. He made his acting debut at the age of 10 in a guest spot on ER in 2000. and just a year later earned acclaim opposite Anthony Hopkins in Heart of Atlantis, earning a Young Artist Award.
Welsh actor Gareth Thomas, best known among genre fans as rebel leader Roj Blake in the BBC series Blake’s 7, passed away yesterday at the age of 71.
Thomas trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, after which he became an associate member. He made many television appearances, receiving two BAFTA nominations. He also appeared on stage in several Royal Shakespeare Company productions, including Twelfth Night and Othello, and many other productions, including 2010’s Desire Under the Elms.
On his Blake’s 7 role, he’s often said that he never watched an episode, and even left the show after the second season, apart from a couple of guest appearances. However, he would later turn back to the role in several Big Finish audio productions.
However, I remember him most from a role just prior to Blake – from a series called Star Maidens. While staying a few weeks with family in England I caught this series, and the memory of it stayed with me for a long time…you can read my Retro Review of the show from 2008.
R2-D2’s builder and Star Trek: The Next Generation and Battlestar Galactica VFX artist have passed away
Two industry passings were sadly reported this weekend.
Tony Dyson, who referred to himself as “R2-D2’s Dad”, passed away at the age of 68. While working at his own studio, the White Horse Toy Company, he was commissioned by George Lucas to turn Ralph McQuarrie’s sketches of a plug-shaped mechanical character into an astromech that would become the most loved droid in two galaxies.
On his web site Dyson wrote about the return of R2-D2 in Episode VII, “The love for R2 is universal; no other Star Wars character has been loved over the years the way R2-D2 has, his merchandising has rocketed over the years and his influence in the world of robotics is truly remarkable.”
Emmy-winning visual effect artist Gary Hutzel, who’s career shot starward when he helped define the look of Star Trek: The Next Generation including the infamous Borg Cube, as well as the U.S.S. Defiant design for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, passed away on Thursday at the age of 60.
Hutzel later worked in movies, including Red Planet and Spy Kids, but would return to television for Ronald D. Moore’s reboot of Battlestar Galactica, where he won two of his Emmys.
Actor Alan Rickman, most known for his role of enigmatic Professor Severus Snape across the 8 movies of the Harry Potter franchise, passed away early this morning at the age of 69 after a bout with cancer, his family confirms.
Rickman created many memorable roles after arriving in Hollywood – and I mean RIGHT after. Two days after coming to Los Angeles, he was offered his first film role as the criminal mastermind Hans Gruber opposite Bruce Willis in 1998’s Die Hard, and forever made his mark off the bat. But he wasn’t an inexperienced actor, being well known in London’s West End, originating the role of Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1985 and carried that role to Broadway in 1987. Theater still remained his “first love”.
He followed up Gruber with another villainous role as the Sheriff of Nottingham against Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with such an amazing “love to hate” character performance – something that he seemed to excel at. His portrayal as the Sheriff was even parodied in the slapstick comedy Robin Hood: Men In Tights by Roger Rees.
Other roles that we remember him and his distinctive voice most for were Metatron in Dogma, Dr. Lazarus/Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest, and Harry, the husband who makes a mistake in Love Actually opposite Emma Thompson, whom he worked with many times and directed The Winter Guest, and they were good friends. Thompson was apparently with him and his family when he died.
Actress Yvonne Craig, best known for her pioneering role of Batgirl in the original Batman TV series, died on Monday in her home at the age of 78 after a two year long battle with breast cancer.
Craig’s foray into acting came quite accidentally. While working as a dancer, she had dinner with a producer who wanted to get her into films, but she was uninterested. But another man passed by her table and asked if she was an actress. The producer said, “Yes she is, and I’m her manager…” The man was Patrick Ford, the son of director John Ford, and was looking for a new leading lady to star opposite Patrick Wayne (John Wayne’s son) in The Young Land. And thus the dancer became the actress.
But it was when ABC wanted them to add the Batgirl character to Batman‘s third season that she was forever enshrined in genre fan’s memories. The purple-suited, motorcycle-riding female superhero (one of the first such live action roles), who’s real identity was a mystery even to Batman himself but was in reality Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara, the librarian, helped ABC’s decision to pick up the show for a third (and final) season.
Star Trek fans will also remember Craig as the beautiful (but insane) green-skinned Orion slave girl Marta in the episode “Whom Gods Destroy”.
Private services are planned but not set. Her family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the cancer research and treatment center, the Angeles Clinic Foundation.
Update 6/23: Horner’s representatives confirmed his death.
Oscar- and Grammy-winning composer James Horner, who scored more than 75 films including Titanic (for which he received two Oscars), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (his film debut), Braveheart, Aliens, Apollo 13 and The Amazing Spider-Man and Avatar, is believed to be the pilot who died in a single-engine plane crash in Central Florida on Monday. No one else was on board.
Officials have not confirmed the name of the pilot yet, but the 61-year-old composer is a licensed pilot and has not been heard from since the crash. Condolences from those who knew him have been coming in, however. Director Ron Howard, who worked with Horner on Apollo 13, Cocoon and several other movies, tweeted early this morning:
Brilliant Composer James Horner, friend & collaborator on 7 movies has tragically died in a plane crash. My heart aches for his loved ones.
— Ron Howard (@RealRonHoward) June 23, 2015
Actor Sir Christopher Lee, who has played many many roles but around these circles is perhaps best known for his portrayals of Saruman in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films and Count Dooku in the the Star Wars prequels, passed away on his birthday this past Sunday morning. He had just turned 93. He was in the hospital for several weeks being treated for respiratory and heart issues.
His wife Gitte, to whom he had been married for over 50 years, delayed the announcement while they informed closed family members.
Lee first became a star with the Hammer Horror films, including playing the title role in The Mummy and several memorable performances of Dracula. He was no stranger to other iconic roles, such as the title character in 5 Fu Manchu films in the 1960s, and a number of appearances as Sherlock Holmes.
In the 70s, he would take on James Bond as Scaramanga, The Man With the Golden Gun and played Rochefort in The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers and reprise the role in 1989’s The Return of the Musketeers. He also had a guest role in a memorable episode of Space: 1999 called “Earthbound”.
In later years he also appeared in or lent his booming voice to several Tim Burton movies, including Sleep Hollow, Alice In Wonderland, Corpse Bridge and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
He helped define generations of characters that forever will be remembered as the defining portrayals.
May Saruman find peace and travel into the West to the Undying Lands…
Grace Lee Whitney, who for a short but memorable time played Yeoman Janice Rand on the original Star Trek, passed away on Friday at home at the age of 85, confirmed by her son. She was the oldest surviving original cast member.
Whitney started as a singer, appearing with Billie Holiday and Buddy Rich, but then turned to acting and appeared in guest roles in a number of TV shows including Gunsmoke, The Rifleman and 77 Sunset Strip, but then landed a role as what was supposed to be a regular “love interest” character for Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek when it went into production.
Her and her infamous blond beehive wig (“I swear they had to nail that thing to my head!”) would only last 8 episodes, however. Numerous reasons for her departure were rumored, including her alcoholism, but according to her the primary reason was that they didn’t want to tie Kirk down and leave him free to mingle with others. Gene Roddenberry claimed it was to cut the budget. But in her 1998 autobiography, she also said she was sexually assaulted by a Desilu (the production company) executive, and was cut from the show a few days later.
Her career after that, along with her addictions, would spiral out of control, but she credited the Star Trek fans who never forgot her for helping her beat her additions and became an advocate for beating substance abuse. She would return to Star Trek and her character with small parts in Star Trek: The Motion Picture as the transporter chief, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home working in Starfleet Command, and Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country and an episode of Star Trek: Voyager as the communications officer on the U.S.S. Excelsior, which they believed might spin off into a series.
Ad astra per aspera, Grace…