Douglas Adams, galactic hitchhiker, born

Douglas AdamsFuture Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy writer/creator Douglas Adams is born in England. Demonstrating an early ability to write short stories with a hint of the absurd, Adams would find himself a member of the renowned Cambridge Footlights theatrical comedy group in the early 1970s, leading to his “discovery” by Monty Python’s Graham Chapman. (Adams would become one of only two people outside of the core six-man Python troupe to contribute any scripted material to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and made a few appearances as a guest cast member.) He would go on to contribute radio comedy sketches to various BBC Radio shows through the 1970s, until the premiere of his own project, the science fiction comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, put him on the map.

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Chris Barrie, Red Dwarf actor, born

Chris Barrie as RimmerFuture Red Dwarf cast member Chris Barrie is born in West Germany to British parents. Developing a knack for vocal impersonations at an early age, Barrie aims for a comedy career after dropping out of college and quickly becomes a frequent guest actor on television (The Young Ones, Blackadder). He also provides vocal impersonations and spoken word soundbytes on songs by Art of Noise and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. After appearing in a radio sketch called “Dave Hollins, Space Cadet” written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor, he lands the role of Arnold Rimmer in Red Dwarf – a science fiction sitcom created by Grant & Naylor, whose inspiration can be traced back to that radio sketch.

Alex Kingston, Doctor Who actress, born

Alex Kingston as River SongActress Alex Kingston, a familiar face in both British and American television, is born in England. With a variety of roles on UK TV throughout the 1980s and ’90s, she will make the leap to American television in 1997 with a regular role on the hospital drama ER through 2004. In 2008 she will make her first appearance as Professor River Song, occasional companion and gadfly to the Doctor in Doctor Who, opposite both David Tennant and Matt Smith.

John Barrowman, Torchwood actor, born

John Barrowman as Captain Jack HarknessActor/singer John Barrowman is born in Scotland. At a young age, he moves to the midwestern United States with his family, where he remains until graduating college in the late 1980s. Moving back to the UK, he begins a career on the musical stage, though he retains dual citizenship allowing him to work on either side of the Atlantic. Early US TV roles in such series as Titans and Central Park West pay the bills, but most genre fans know him best as Captain Jack Harkness, a character Barrowman has played on both Doctor Who and its spinoff, Torchwood, which centers around his character. Further television guest starring and regular roles follow, including Desperate Housewives and Arrow.

Yuri Gagarin, first man in space, dies

Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human space traveler, dies along with a flight instructor in a MiG jet fighter crash. Considered too valuable a publicity asset to risk in another spaceflight, Gagarin had been barred from any further space missions. Several investigations into the fatal crash are conducted, with none of them reaching any definitive conclusions, though unfavorable flying weather and a sudden dive (possibly also a result of the weather) are commonly cited factors. Gagarin’s ashes are buried in the wall of the Kremlin.

Gareth David-Lloyd, Torchwood actor, born

Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto JonesFuture Torchwood series regular Gareth David-Lloyd is born in Wales. Showing an early aptitutde for acting, he will also make appearances on Warehouse 13, Holby City, and Doctor Who. Incidentally, the first time he plays a character named Ianto Jones – completely unrelated from the character who will later appear on Torchwood and Doctor Who – is in an episode of the drama Mine All Mine written by future Torchwood creator Russell T. Davies.

Robert Holmes, Doctor Who writer, dies

Robert HolmesRobert Holmes, considered by many fans to be the definitive script editor and most influential writer of classic Doctor Who, dies at the age of 60. He was responsible for the Sontarans, the Autons, The Master, The Ark In Space, Pyramids Of Mars, and Caves Of Androzani; his scripts for the popular BBC space opera Blake’s 7 were also considered among that show’s best installments. He also bestowed the name Gallifrey upon the planet of the Time Lords and virtually created the entire Time Lord mythology in the acclaimed and controversial 1976 installment The Deadly Assassin. His untimely death cuts short his work on the final installments of The Trial Of A Time Lord and throws the scripting and production of those final two episodes into chaos.

Patrick Troughton, Doctor Who actor, dies

Patrick TroughtonPatrick Troughton, the first actor to inherit the lead role of Doctor Who from another actor (and still one of the best-loved incarnations of the time-traveling Doctor), dies at the age of 67 on the second day of a science fiction convention in Columbus, Georgia. Despite worries about a persistent heart condition (he had already suffered heart attacks in 1978 and 1984), Troughton had made the trip to America against his doctor’s advice, suffering a fatal third heart attack after breakfast. His final TV appearance, the series Knights Of God, will air later in the year, having actually been filmed in 1985.

Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek creator, dies

Gene RoddenberryHaving been hospitalized for several weeks, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry dies in a Los Angeles hospital; his health had been declining in recent years and he had become confined to a wheelchair, leaving much of the day-to-day production duties of Star Trek: The Next Generation executive producers Rick Berman and Michael Piller. Roddenberry is survived by his son and by Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who still occasionally guest stars on Star Trek: TNG as Lwaxana Troi, and fans the world over mourn his passing. Rick Berman is expected to continue assuming full responsibility for the Star Trek franchise’s production and creative decisions, a role he had already been fulfilling during Roddenberry’s recent years of ill health. TNG is currently in its fifth season.

Terry Nation, Dalek creator, dies

Terry NationWelsh-born writer Terry Nation, who wrote the first Doctor Who scripts featuring the Daleks, dies at the age of 66. A former comedy writer, Nation had recently been fired from a steady comedy job when his agent directed him toward the still-in-development BBC science fiction series; Nation’s first script drew the ire of Doctor Who creator Sydney Newman, who issued his famous “no bug-eyed monsters” edict in response, though Nation’s scripts were bought and filmed by the show’s first producer, Verity Lambert. The Daleks immediately secured the future of both Doctor Who and Nation himself, who went on to create seminal BBC genre series such as Survivors and Blake’s 7 before emigrating to America, where he became a producer on MacGyver. At the time of his death, he had been developing concepts for a Blake’s 7 revival with input from series star Paul Darrow.

DeForest Kelley, actor, dies

De KelleyActor DeForest Kelley, loved around the world for his portrayal of cranky-but-sympathetic Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy on Star Trek, dies at the age of 79 from cancer. A mainstay of western movies and TV guest roles since the 1940s, Kelley had first encountered Gene Roddenberry while auditioning for the lead role in his detective series pilot called Sam Benedict – a role which Kelley didn’t win, but he made enough of an impression that Roddenberry invited him to view the first two Star Trek pilots when recasting the Enterprise’s doctor for a third time. Kelley’s most recent appearance in the role had been in 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; he declined to take part in 1994’s Star Trek: Generations, though a role had been written for him. (He had already handed the baton off to The Next Generation in an unannounced cameo appearance in that series’ pilot.)

John Colicos, Battlestar Galactica actor, dies

John Colicos as BaltarCanadian-born actor John Colicos, known for numerous genre roles among his countless TV appearances, dies at the age of 71. In the original Star Trek, he was the first actor to be seen portraying a Klingon, in the 1967 episode Errand Of Mercy, and would later reprise the role in two episodes of the 1990s spinoff Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In the late 1970s, he had a recurring role as Count Baltar, the chief human antagonist in the original Battlestar Galactica.

Sir Alec Guinness, Star Wars actor, dies

Sir Alec GuinnessSir Alec Guinness, best known to SF fans as Obi-Wan Kenobi, dies at the age of 86. He was a working actor for over six decades, though directors had to beg him into participating in his two best-known outings – Star Wars and The Bridge Over The River Kwai; indeed, in recent years, he has made his disdain for the former project very well known to any fans who dared to ask. Reports around the time of his death indicated that Sir Alec Guinness has been suffering from liver cancer. He is survived by his wife and son.

Ray Walston, actor, dies

Ray Walston in Star Trek: VoyagerActor Ray Walston, best known for his starring role as My Favorite Martian but also famous for recurring roles on Picket Fences and both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, dies at the age of 86. His appearances on Picket Fences earned him two successive supporting actor Emmy awards in 1995 and 1996. Walston also made countless appearances in other television shows, ranging from both the theatrical version and the short-lived TV spinoff of Fast Times At Ridgemont High, to the miniseries based on Stephen King’s The Stand, episodes of Buck Rogers, Mission: Impossible, Amazing Stories, Night Court, Friday The 13th: The Series, Ally McBeal, and Touched By An Angel, and even a one-off attempt to revive ALF.

Prowse paralyzed

Darth VaderAn unusual paralyzing condition strikes actor David Prowse, first leaving one of his arms paralyzed and then his back, robbing him of his ability to walk. Prowse, who portrayed Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, has made numerous other larger-than-life appearances (including a brief guest shot as the legendary Minotaur in a 1972 episode of Doctor Who), and has lately been a frequent guest on the convention circuit. A spokesman for Mr. Prowse says that doctors have ruled out a stroke as the cause of his condition, but still have yet to identifty what exactly has happened.

David Graf, actor, dies

David GrafActor David Graf, forever known as Sergeant Tackleberry in the Police Academy series of films, dies of a heart attack at the age of 50. Graf made a number of guest appearances on TV series near and dear to SF fans, perhaps most notably in the role of aviator Fred Noonan in the original season finale of Star Trek: Voyager’s first season, The 37s (which was later relocated to the show’s second season by UPN). Mr. Graf also guest starred on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Quantum Leap, Lois & Clark and Beauty And The Beast, as well as appearing alongside ex-DS9er Terry Farrell in some recent episodes of Becker, a recurring role in The West Wing, and providing character voices for the Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force video game.

Douglas Adams, writer, dies

Douglas AdamsDouglas Adams, the creator of the insanely popular (and maniacally funny) Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy franchise – spanning two seasons of BBC radio series, five novels, a game and a brief TV series – dies suddenly of a heart attack in his California home at the age of 49. Adams created the Guide in 1978 as a radio series, and the subsequent “trilogy” of five books sold over 14 million copies worldwide. Recently, Adams had been working on H2G2, a cyberspace version of the Guide (to which visitors could add their own entries), as well as collaborating with Austin Powers director Jay Roach on an upcoming movie version of the story. Mr. Adams is survived by his wife Jane and a six-year-old daughter.

Delia Derbyshire, music pioneer, dies

Doctor WhoBritish composer and musician Delia Derbyshire, probably best known for the unforgettably haunting arrangement of Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who theme music which graced the show from 1963 to 1980, dies at the age of 64. The first female composer to work in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Ms. Derbyshire also contributed a great deal of music both otherworldly and otherwise to the BBC’s library over the years, and remained an active participant up until her death.

Mary Whitehouse, media activist, dies

Mary WhitehouseMary Whitehouse, known for many years for her insistent outcries against sex and violence on British television – including a years-long war of words with various producers of BBC-TV’s Doctor Who – dies at the age of 91 (coincidentally, on the 38th anniversary of Doctor Who’s first broadcast). Many a Who producer has quietly echoed the thoughts of John Nathan-Turner, who has been known to say that he’d pray at night that Ms. Whitehouse would protest loudly about a recent episode of the show because it would draw public attention (and maybe ratings). Ms. Whitehouse is survived by three sons.

George Harrison, Beatle, dies

George HarrisonThe “Quiet Beatle,” George Harrison, succumbs after a long battle with cancer at the age of 58. Renowned for writing numerous Beatles hits including “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”, Harrison was also the first to launch a solo career by releasing the triple album All Things Must Pass within a year of the group’s split, consisting of numerous songs that hadn’t made the cut with the rest of the Fab Four, which immediately became a best seller. Harrison also founded Handmade Films to help his friends in the Monty Python troupe complete production of the controversial Biblical spoof Monty Python’s Life Of Brian (which had met with major studio opposition due to its subject matter); Handmade Films later turned out Time Bandits and other cult classics under Harrison’s guidance. At the time of his death, Harrison was said to be working on a new solo album.

Kevin Smith, Hercules/Xena actor, dies

Kevin Smith as AresDescribed as one of New Zealand’s leading actors, Kevin Smith – known best to genre fans as Ares, god of war and most persistent (and funniest) foil of Hercules and Xena – dies at the age of 38 in Beijing, China after suffering severe injuries in a fall. He was injured after wrapping production on a film, and spent ten days in critical condition before dying in his sleep. He was due to appear in an upcoming Bruce Willis movie, to begin filming in March; there’s no word on what the release schedule will now be for his final project, Warriors Of Virtue II. He is survived by his wife and three children.

John-Nathan Turner, Doctor Who producer, dies

JNTThe man who could arguably be considered the most high-profile (and controversial) producer of 20th century Doctor Who dies at the age of 54. John Nathan-Turner took over the reins of the Doctor’s adventures in 1980, drastically revamping the show’s look, sound, and feel, and forever altering its course by replacing Tom Baker as the lead actor in 1981; Nathan-Turner personally selected each of the following Doctors – Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy – for the remainder of the show’s tenure on BBC-TV. Always a staunch champion for the series at a point when its support among the BBC brass was at an all-time low, John Nathan-Turner attracted both attention and criticism for getting well-known performers to do guest stints on the show. It was under JN-T’s reign that Doctor Who was put on an 18-month “hiatus” (originally a full-scale cancellation), and eventually was dropped altogether.