Soviet 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.
Robert 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, 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.
Having 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.
Welsh-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.
Actor 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.)
Canadian-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, 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.
Actor 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.
Actor 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, 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.
British 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, 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.
The “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.
Actor Stratford Johns, a familiar face to British TV audiences for more than four decades, dies at the age of 76. Among his notable genre appearances were Peter Davison’s second Doctor Who story, Four To Doomsday, and one of the final Blake’s 7 episodes, Games; Mr. Johns also appeared in such staples of BBC-TV’s golden era as Z Cars and Softly Softly.
Described 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.
The 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.
Actor Leo McKern, best known for starring as Horace Rumpole in Rumpole Of The Bailey as well as being the more frequently recurring face of “Number Two” in The Prisoner, dies at a nursing home in Bath, England at the age of 82. Born in Australia, Mr. McKern made his mark in British television and in film, with appearances in Lawrence Of Arabia and the Beatles’ Help!.
Actress Kim Hunter, who played Zira in Planet Of The Apes and two of its sequels, dies of a heart attack at the age of 79. She won an Oscar in 1952 as best supporting actress in A Streetcar Named Desire. Her career also included the legendary topical TV comedy That Was The Week That Was, guest shots on numerous episodes of Playhouse 90, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, Mission: Impossible, and many other films and TV appearances.
Jonathan Harris, made famous by his role as the villainous Dr. Smith in the ’60s sci-fi classic Lost In Space dies due to complications from a blood clot in his heart. Harris’ career featured some notable film work, chiefly in the area of voicing cartoon characters (including, most recently, A Bug’s Life), but most of his career was spent on television, with appearances in golden-age anthology shows like Lights Out, General Electric Theater, The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, as well as other classics like Bonanza, Zorro, Bewitched, and even Fantasy Island and Love, American Style.
Legendary SF writer Jerry Sohl dies at the age of 88. Aside from writing a number of seminal novels in the genre including “The Lemon Eaters”, Mr. Sohlalso wrote The Corbomite Maneuver episode of the original Star Trek series, as well as installments of Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was also a member of the “Green Hand” collective of golden-age SF writers (including such august members as Rod Serling, George Clayton Johnson, Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson) who threw their lot in with the fans to save Star Trek from cancellation by NBC after its first season.
Oscar-winning sculptor, artist and model maker Wah Ming Chang was probably best known in SF circles for creating elaborate creatures for Star Trek (including the Horta, the alien face of Balok, and the tricorder props) and The Outer Limits. Chang also won the Oscar for special effects for George Pal’s film adaptation of The Time Machine. He also created costumes on such non-SF movies as The King And I and Cleopatra, for which he sculpted Elizabeth Taylor’s headdress. He was 86 years old.
Actress and casting director Cecily Adams, known to fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Quark’s mother, Ishka (also known affectionately as “Moogie”), dies due to lung cancer. The daughter of Get Smart! star Don Adams, Ms. Adams had made appearances on DS9, Total Recall: 2070, Murphy Brown and Home Improvement. Behind the scenes, she lent her casting expertise to such series as Third Rock From The Sun, That 70s Show, Eerie, Indiana, and many others. She is survived by her husband and a two-year-old daughter.
Actor Paul Winfield, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1978 TV miniseries King, dies of a heart attack at the age of 62. In genre circles, Mr. Winfield won praise for his portrayal of Captain Terrell of the Reliant in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and as General Richard Franklin in the GROPOs episode of Babylon 5, but perhaps his best genre outing was in a 1991 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Darmok. He received Emmy nominations for his work in King and Roots: The Next Generation, as well as an Oscar nomination for Sounder; he finally took home an Emmy for a guest role on Picket Fences in 1995.
Anthony Ainley, the actor who revived the role of the villainous Master in the BBC’s long-running series Doctor Who, dies at the age of 71. Picking up the role originally played by the late Roger Delgado during the Pertwee years, Mr. Ainley first appeared in 1981’s The Keeper Of Traken as the benevolent Consul Tremas, father to series regular Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), whose body was taken over by the Master late in the story. He was born into an acting family and got his first film role at only five years old, though he later studied to be an insurance agent. Finally returning to the family vocation, he appeared in movies such as You Only Live Twice and Inspector Clouseau, and television series ranging from the 1960s police series It’s Dark Outside to Upstairs, Downstairs.