Bradford A. Smith, a research astronomer and former professor of planetary science and astronomy at the University of Arizona, dies at the age of 86 from complications arising from an autoimmune disorder. Smith became a public figure during the peak years of the uncrewed Voyager missions in the 1970s and ’80s, where, as the head of the imaging team for Voyagers 1 and 2, it fell to him to interpret freshly-received images from the outer planets and their moons for the press and the public, combining authoritative knowledge with a dry sense of humor at press conferences. Smith had reshaped the specs for Voyager’s onboard cameras since the mission was given the go-ahead in 1972, not only pushing for more powerful telescopic optics, but going out of his way to hire geologists and planetary science experts who could interpret the geological processes shaping the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune from photos alone. When the moons of Jupiter greeted Voyager’s cameras with recently-reshaped surfaces and active volcanoes, that decision paid off. Prior to the Voyager mission, Smith had also been involved with imaging science in the Mariner and Viking missions to Mars, as well as helping to shape the specs for the planetary camera being developed for the yet-to-be-launched Hubble Space Telescope and advising imaging teams working on later missions.
Gary Kurtz, producer of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and George Lucas’ right-hand man during the making of both movies, dies at the age of 78 after a year-long battle with cancer. Kurtz was instrumental in the deal-making behind both Star Wars and its predecessor, Lucas’ American Graffiti, initially pitching both to Universal Studios. While Universal was eager to make American Graffiti, they passed on Star Wars, which was then pitched to 20th Century Fox. Kurtz was literally in the Death Star trenches helping Lucas complete the first film, directing many second-unit shots (including many of the X-Wing cockpit scenes from the movie’s climactic battle) and riding herd on the somewhat overburdened Industrial Light & Magic. Fundamental differences over the storytelling choices Lucas was making for Return Of The Jedi led Kurtz to distance himself from Lucasfilm, and he would go on to produce such films as The Dark Crystal, Return To Oz, and Slipstream.
Classically trained Canadian actor Douglas Rain, best known to science fiction fans as the voice of the HAL-9000 computer in 2001: a space odyssey and 2010: The Year We Make Contact, dies at the age of 90. A veteran of the Canadian stage, Mr. Rain was a founding member of the Stratford Festival, and played a variety of parts over 45 years in Stratford, Ontario, some of which led to him reprising those performances on film. It was his narration of a 1960 documentary that got the attention of 2001 director Stanley Kubrick, who hired him to provide narration, an element that was eventually jettisoned before the movie’s release. Kubrick had, in fact, initially hired American actor Martin Balsam to voice HAL, but felt that Balsam’s performance was perhaps too emotional for the ship’s computer. Mr. Rain was enlisted to replace all of HAL’s lines in ten hours of marathon recording sessions in late 1967, long after shooting had wrapped; he claimed never to have seen the final result.
Marvel Comics’ most famous editor (and arguably its most famous creator, to the chagrin of some of the artists with whom he worked), Stan Lee, dies at the age of 95, several months after announcing that his days of attending conventions and making public appearances were over. Born in 1922, he began working at Timely Publications mere months after the company’s formation, thanks to a family connection with the company’s publisher, and became interim editor of Timely’s comics output in 1941. Timely had already seen success with artist/writer Jack Kirby’s Captain America, and Lee would not really make his mark until after a three-year sabbatical during which he enlisted in the U.S. Army and turned his talents to writing material supporting the war effort. It was during the early 1960s that Lee’s real influence on the company begin to be known, collaborating with Kirby on The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, X-Men, and others, and co-creating The Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange with artist Steve Ditko. Under Lee’s editorship, Marvel led a revolution in interpreting comic book superheroes as complex, multifaceted, and flawed individuals, many of which remained bankable enough properties to lead to Disney’s 2009 acquisition of the company and rapid expansion of movie and TV adaptations of numerous characters and titles.
British-born actor Donald Moffat, who left England for the United States in 1956, dies at the age of 87 due to complications from a stroke he had recently suffered. A frequent face on American TV and film for decades, Moffat was a regular on the short-lived TV adaptation of Logan’s Run, in which he played the benevolent android Rem, and was a member of the ensemble cast of John Carpenter’s The Thing. He also portrayed President Lyndon B. Johnson in Philip Kaufman’s 1984 adaptation The Right Stuff, and appeared in countless other movies and TV series, including guest stints on The Six Million Dollar Man and the 1980s Twilight Zone, working steadily into the early 2000s before retiring.
British-born actor William Morgan Sheppard, a genre casting favorite ever since his 1985 appearance as Blank Reg in the original Max Headroom TV movie (a role that permanently relocated him to the United States for the U.S. Max Headroom series), dies at the age of 86 in Los Angeles. With his wizened features (the result of a surgical procedure that cost him one of his eyes), classical stage training, and distinctive, vaguely-Irish-accented voice, Sheppard would go on to appear in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark, Quantum Leap, Star Trek VI, seaQuest DSV, Babylon 5 (a series in which he was a close runner-up for the role of G’Kar), Star Trek: Voyager, Doctor Who, and the 2009 Star Trek movie relaunch. He was the father of actor Mark Sheppard, a genre favorite in his own right, with whom he appeared in both Doctor Who and NCIS, playing older and younger versions of the same character. Prior to leaving the U.K., Sheppard had appeared in such series as The New Avengers, Hammer House Of Horror, and Day Of The Triffids.
Actor Luke Perry, at the time a current regular on the CW’s Riverdale series and a former teen heartthrob from his years as one of the stars of Fox’s Beverly Hills 90210 throughout the 1990s, dies at the age of 52 several days after suffering from a major stroke. Among his many high-profile series roles were HBO’s acclaimed prison drama Oz, and the starring role in Jeremiah, Showtime’s early 21st century adaptation of a popular post-apocalyptic comic book, adapted by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski. He also had a minor part in the 1997 genre cult classic The Fifth Element, and was one of the stars of the 1992 movie Buffy The Vampire Slayer, upon which the later TV series was based. His first TV role – albeit uncredited – was in an episode of 1982’s short-lived time travel series Voyagers!.
Skylab and Space Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott dies at the age of 88. Born in Oklahoma, former U.S. Navy electronics officer Garriott went on to Stanford University to pursue a doctorate, and returned to Stanford to teach physics and electronics until 1965, when he was selected by NASA as one of the first “scientist astronauts” for future Apollo and Apollo Applications Program missions. (Only one scientist astronaut, Harrison Schmitt, flew to the moon before the Apollo program’s budgetary lunar wings were clipped by the Nixon administration.) Garriott first flew to space in 1973 as part of the second Skylab long-duration crew, staying in orbit for a record-setting two months with his two crewmates, and flew as a mission specialist aboard the first Space Shuttle mission to carry the Spacelab laboratory module into orbit in 1983. Both before and after his second and final flight, he was involved in consulting on the ever-changing design for a planned space station, which, after many changes, evolved into the International Space Station. He was the father of Richard Garriott, designer of the Ultima computer adventure game series who later visited the ISS as a space tourist aboard a Soyuz flight; they were the first father/son astronauts in America (preceded only by cosmonauts Alexander and Sergei Volkov).
Actor Peter Mayhew, who went from a job as a hospital orderly to co-starring in the Star Wars films as Chewbacca, dies at the age of 74. Following filming on Star Wars, with no way to anticipate the movie’s upcoming blockbuster success, Mayhew returned to his orderly job, continuing that line of work after the filming of both 1980‘s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983‘s Return Of The Jedi, before becoming a full-time fixture at Star Wars and science fiction conventions (and, later, the internet, regaling fans with behind-the-scenes stories both in person and online). He had some prior monster-suit-acting experience before George Lucas hired him for Star Wars, but not enough to amount to a steady stream of work. He reprised the role of Chewie in 2005‘s Revenge Of The Sith and 2015‘s The Force Awakens before handing the Wookiee suit off to former basketball player Joonas Suotamo, but still received a consulting credit for 2017‘s The Last Jedi, coaching Suotamo during filming. He had also put on the Wookiee suit for any number of promotional appearances, playing the character on The Muppet Show and Donny & Marie, as well as the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, which afforded Chewie a larger role than some of the movies did.