Oscar-winning actor Charlton Heston dies at the age of 84. Renowned for a string of tough-guy roles in major big-screen epics that earned him an Academy Award for best actor in 1959’s Ben-Hur, Heston appeared in other blockbusters such as El Cid and The Ten Commandments; genre fans may know him best for two SF films, Soylent Green and the 1968 smash hit Planet Of The Apes. His outspoken political views were on display as much as his acting skills, ranging from marching to Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to serving as president of the National Rifle Association. He had also served as a past president of the Screen Actors’ Guild.
Composer, arranger and orchestrator Alexander Courage, composer of the theme from the original Star Trek, dies at the age of 88. Courage was responsible for writing the iconic main theme as well as the scores for the show’s two pilot episodes. When Star Trek went to series, however, Roddenberry – ahead of the curve on almost every imaginable marketing angle – wrote and published lyrics to Courage’s theme, thereby earning 50% of the profit from any future use of that music, a move which alienated the composer. Due to Star Trek using a library approach to its music, however, Courage’s music resurfaced in almost every episode in some capacity. Courage began orchestrating and arranging for other composers, including John Williams (The Poseidon Adventure, Jurassic Park) and Jerry Goldsmith, who asked Courage to write a few pieces for 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture which utilized the original TV theme.
Director and former actor Joseph Pevney, the man behind the camera for many of the original Star Trek‘s best-remembered segments, dies at the age of 96. A veteran of classic ’60s, ’70s and ’80s television, he also directed numerous episodes of Wagon Train, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Mission: Impossible, The Munsters, Bonanza, and The Incredible Hulk. Before embarking on his directing career in 1950, he also worked as an actor, with his first exposure to showbiz in a 1924 Vaudeville show.
Comedy great Harvey Korman, known for his long run on the Carol Burnett Show and Blazing Saddles, dies at the age of 81. Along with Tim Conway, he was a staple of Burnett’s comedy sketch show, though an attempt to spin that success off into his own series ran aground in 1977. A year later, still a comedy fixture, he racked up his most infamous genre credit: appearing as multiple characters in the almost-trippy Star Wars Holiday Special, including one of the better moments of actual comedy in the show, the “stir whip, stir whip, whip whip, stir!” chef. After appearing in Blazing Saddles, he appeared in several more Mel Brooks films, and did countless TV guest starring gigs.
Robert Justman, who along with Gene Roddenberry shepherded the original Star Trek from an untried pilot to its three years on the air (and came along for the ride with the inception and first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation), dies at the age of 81 from complications associated with Parkinson’s Disease. Originally an assisant director on the rejected pilot episode The Cage, he stuck around to become a producer and one of Roddenberry’s right-hand men. While at Desilu Studios (the makers of the original Star Trek, later bought by Paramount) he also produced the pilot episode of Mission: Impossible; his pre-Trek credits included several episodes of The Outer Limits, numerous Disney Sunday Movies, and The Adventures Of Superman.
Longtime special effects and makeup wizard Stan Winston, a four-time Oscar winner with a resume loaded with some of the most influential genre films in movie history, dies at the age of 62 after struggling for seven years with multiple myeloma. His four Oscar wins – two for Terminator 2, one for Jurassic Park, and one for Aliens – are just the tip of the iceberg; his makeup and effects skills also earned him Oscar nominations for such films as Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, and AI. Other movie credits included The Wiz, Predator, Friday The 13th Part III, The Thing, Interview With The Vampire and – most recently – Iron Man. His early career was spent in TV, with work on Roots, Amazing Stories and even creating the costumes for Chewbacca’s family in the Star Wars Holiday Special. In 1994, with James Cameron and Scott Ross, he co-founded visual effects house Digital Domain, which grew into a serious competitor in the effects business with its contributions to movies like Titanic, X-Men, Fight Club, The Fifth Element, Speed Racer, Star Trek: Nemesis, and the Lord Of The Rings and Pirates Of The Caribbean series.
Actor Don S. Davis, best known for his long stint in the role of General George Hammond on Stargate SG-1, dies of a heart attack at the age of 65. Though his film and TV career didn’t begin in earnest until the early 1980s, by that time he had earned a doctorate in theater arts and had spent a decade sharing those skills with others as a teacher. One of his early gigs was standing in for Dana Elcar on the set of MacGyver, where he met future SG-1 co-star Richard Dean Anderson. He originated the character of Hammond in the premiere episode of Stargate SG-1, and his final appearance in the role is in the upcoming direct-to-DVD movie Stargate Continuum, due in late July. In addition to reprising his SG-1 role on sister series Stargate Atlantis, he has appeared on such series as The Dead Zone, Highlander, The Outer Limits, The X-Files and Twin Peaks.
Director Jud Taylor, best known to genre fans for helming several third season episodes of the original Star Trek, dies at the age of 76. In addition to his directing duties, he served as vice president of the Directors’ Guild of America from 1977 to 1981, and then served a term as the body’s president until 1983; the years he spent advocating the cause of film and television directors are considered among the most influential in the DGA’s history, during which he helped open doors for both female and minority directors, and had a tremendous effect on directors’ creative rights, pensions, and pay. He was active behind the camera as recently as the 2000s, during which he directed several episodes of Law & Order: SVU.
Forever known as the Brigadier (and thus the only ranking UNIT officer who counts), actor Nicholas Courtney dies at the age of 81, the only actor to have appeared alongside every Doctor in Doctor Who. After appearing as a one-off guest character in the Hartnell era, Courtney is drafted into the role of Colonel Lethbridge Stewart for a 1968 Doctor Who story, proving popular enough to return the following season with a promotion to Brigadier. In this role, Courtney guest starred with every television Doctor (including, thanks to a cameo in a 1993 charity skit, Colin Baker); he would also appear alonside Paul McGann in a Big Finish audio play, a medium that also saw him appearing with David Tennant, years before being cast as the tenth Doctor. Courtney would play the role for Big Finish several times, and even reprised the Brigadier in a 1995 fan-made video production, before bringing the character back in a two-part episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Actress Elisabeth Sladen, possibly the performer who has maintained the longest on-screen association with a Doctor Who character in the history of the franchise, dies at the age of 65. In 1973, the producers of Doctor Who had hired another actress to play the part of new companion Sarah Jane Smith, only to meet with strenuous objections from series lead Jon Pertwee. Elisabeth Sladen was then cast in the part, continuing to play Sarah Jane through 1976, one of the longest-running companions in the original series. Numerous times she had been approached to reprise her role, only agreeing to do so in 1981 in her own spinoff, K-9 & Company, which never made it past the pilot stage. After reprising the role of Sarah Jane for Big Finish’s audio spinoff series centered around the character, she was asked to play the part again – on television – alongside David Tennant, sparking new interest in the character and ultimately leading to her own spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures. Filming of the fifth season of that series had been put on hold while she was admitted to the hospital.
Actor William Campbell, who guest starred as Koloth the Klingon in the classic Star Trek fan favorite The Trouble With Tribbles (and reprised the role in the much later Deep Space Nine epsiode Blood Oath), and played the Q-like Trelaine in The Squire Of Gothos, dies at the age of 84.
Ralph McQuarrie, the artist who envisioned key scenes and settings of the Star Wars universe, before sets or models were built and before filming began, dies at the age of 82. As the production artist for Star Wars, McQuarrie got his licks in early on how the “universe” should look, from costumes to spacecraft to weaponry. George Lucas credited McQuarrie’s artwork with keeping the movies’ “look” on track, as well as selling 20th Century Fox on the idea of financing the first movie in the absence of any kind of test footage. McQuarrie also provided concepts for a redesigned U.S.S. Enterprise for an early ‘70s Star Trek movie project, Star Trek: Planet Of The Titans, that ultimately went unfilmed. He also contributed early concept art to Battlestar Galactica, E.T., Cocoon, Batteries Not Included, and many others, and had also worked on the animated artists’ conceptions of the Apollo moon missions played during CBS’ coverage of those flights.
Caroline John, who joined the cast of Doctor Who for only a single season (also the show’s first season in color), accompanying incoming third Doctor Jon Pertwee as the Doctor’s scientific assistant Liz Shaw, dies at the age of 72 due to complications from cancer. Despite her brief connection to the series, Caroline John has remained associated with Doctor Who, from reprising the role of Liz Shaw repeatedly for Big Finish Productions, to making a cameo appearance in 1983’s The Five Doctors, to reviving Liz as the head of a secret scientific think tank in the fan-made PROBE video series of the 1990s.
Actress Mary Tamm, who appeared in a single (but very high-profile) season of Doctor Who as the first incarnation of the Time Lady Romana, dies at the age of 62 after a battle with cancer. Having revived her version of the Romana character in recent years for Big Finish Productions’ Doctor Who audio stories (and the spinoff series Gallifrey), Tamm has remained popular with fans and has also recently completed her autobiography. Several days later, mere hours after delivering a eulogy at her memorial service, her husband of 34 years, Marcus Ringrose, also dies of a heart attack.
American astronaut – and the first human being to walk on the surface of the moon – Neil Armstrong dies at the age of 82. On July 20th, 1969, he took the “giant leap” onto another world that instantly made him perhaps the most famous citizen of the 20th century – moreso than the Beatles, more than Hitler or Churchill, more than any actor. That century will be defined by the exploration of the moon forever, and as many men walked on its surface, Armstrong’s will be the name that is forever associated with that exploration.
Michael O’Hare, who starred in the 1993 pilot movie and the first full season (1994) of the science fiction series Babylon 5, dies of complications from a heart attack he suffered the week before. An accomplished stage actor who made infrequent forays into television, O’Hare had been out of the public eye (including the science fiction convention circuit) for several years.
Legendary UK television producer Gerry Anderson, responsible for a string of puppet-based hit shows such as Thunderbirds, Supercar, and Stingray, and such live-action cult classics as UFO, Space: 1999, and Space Precinct, dies at the age of 83. Additionally, the Century 21 comics magazine (an extension of his company, Century 21 Productions), had provided the first-ever Doctor-less comics featuring the Daleks in the 1960s, arguably the birth of Doctor Who’s “expanded universe.” At the time of his death, there have been numerous attempts by others to modernize his concepts, with wildly varying degrees of success.
Legendary makeup artist and creature designer Stuart Freeborn, whose most enduring cinematic creations include Yoda and Jabba the Hutt from the original Star Wars trilogy, dies at the age of 98. His numerous big-screen credits include Dr. Strangelove, 2001: a space odyssey, The Omen, the entire original Star Wars trilogy and all four of the Christopher Reeve Superman films.
The original designer of the seemingly immortal Dalek casings seen throughout the history of Doctor Who (and its associated merchandising), Raymond Cusick dies at the age of 84. A young staff designer at the BBC in 1963, Cusick landed the assignment of originating the Dalek design by chance when another staff designer originally assigned to Doctor Who, Ridley Scott, changed assignments. Years later, after quietly enquiring about sharing some of the windfall from Dalek merchandising, Cusick received a thank you note from the BBC, along with a check for 250 pounds. Despite this, he continued as a television production designer for the BBC through the late 1980s.
SF/horror/fantasy author Richard Matheson dies at the age of 87. His novels and short stories have been fodder for Hollywood for over half a century, including I Am Legend (which, in addition to the Will Smith adaptation, had also been translated into The Last Man On Earth and The Omega Man, and is often credited as a primary influence in zombie fiction), What Dreams May Come, Somewhere In Time (inspired by the story “Bid Time Return”), A Stir Of Echoes and Duel (which inspired a TV movie which was Steven Spielberg’s first major directorial effort). Matheson also wrote episodes of The Twilight Zone (including Nightmare At 20,000 Feet, which was remade for Twilight Zone: The Movie), Star Trek (The Enemy Within), Amazing Stories, The Outer Limits and The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler (the pilot movies for what became the series Kolchak: The Night Stalker). Other movies inspired by his work included Trilogy Of Terror and The Box.
The president of Nintendo through the latter half of the 20th century, Hiroshi Yamauchi, dies at the age of 85. Having dropped out of college to assume control of Nintendo from his ailiing grandfather in 1949, Yamauchi transformed the company from a maker of playing cards into a power player in the electronic game market, even though Nintendo’s first video game product was a licensed version of the American-made Magnavox Odyssey. Twice, Yamauchi boldly decided to break into the American video game market with no guarantee of success: once with the arcade game Donkey Kong, and again with the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System, even after a Stateside licensing deal with Atari fell through at the last minute, depriving the NES of Atari’s existing marketing and distribution channels.
Scott Carpenter, Mercury astronaut and the second American to orbit Earth, dies at the age of 88, having recently suffered a stroke. A decorated military pilot, Carpenter became a test pilot in 1954, and was selected as one of the seven Mercury astronauts in 1959. He became the second American astronaut to orbit Earth by coincidence, as fellow Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton had been grounded by a medical condition, bumping Carpenter up to the pilot of the fourth Mercury flight. That was his only spaceflight, as he retired from NASA in 1967.
Director Cliff Bole, a Hollywood veteran with episodes of such classic shows as The Six Million Dollar Man, MacGyver, and Spenser: For Hire under his belt, dies at the age of 75. Best known for his very frequent returns to the Paramount lot, Bole directed episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, including the all-time fan favorite TNG two-parter The Best Of Both Worlds (1990). He also directed other genre shows such as The X-Files, Supernatural, and Millennium.
Shuttle astronaut Dale Gardner, who flew aboard space shuttle Challenger’s STS-8 mission in 1983 and the STS-51A mission aboard Discovery in 1984, dies unexpectedly. As a Mission Specialist aboard both flights, he participated in the risky task of manually retrieving a wayward satellite that was considered too large a target to risk snagging with the shuttle’s remote manipulator arm on the Discovery mission. Using one of the Manned Maneuvering Units that would fall out of favor during post-Challenger-disaster safety reviews, Gardner manually captured the satellite and helped to berth it in Discovery’s cargo bay (and then held up a “for sale” sign for the camera). Gardner left NASA and returned to the Air Force and then to civilian life following the Challenger disaster, and had recently retired just over a year before his death. He was 65.
Writer, director and actor Harold Ramis dies after several years of battling vascular disease. An SCTV comedy veteran who went on to co-write Stripes, Animal House and Caddyshack, Ramis gained genre fame in 1984 for co-writing Ghostbusters, and starring in it as Dr. Egon Spengler, the brains of the ghostbusting operation. He did both again for the less successful Ghostbusters II in 1989, but went on to write and direct such films as Groundhog Day and Analyze This. Ramis was 69.