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.
Terrance Dicks, script editor of Doctor Who from 1968-1974, and writer of many episodes of the show both during and after that time, dies at the age of 84. He first took on Doctor Who script editing duties during the Patrick Troughton years under producer Derrick Sherwin, culminating in taking over as co-writer of an epic ten-part finale for the second Doctor, The War Games, when two other planned scripts fell through on very short notice. In incoming producer Barry Letts and frequent writer Malcolm Hulke, Dicks found a kindred spirits keen to introduce real-world issues into Doctor Who’s storytelling, resulting in what many fans of the original series regard as a golden age for the series. During the break between the 1973 and 1974 seasons, Dicks and Letts collaborated on an original science fiction series, Moonbase 3, which lasted a single season. When Tom Baker took over from Jon Pertwee, Dicks was succeeded by his protege (and frequent Doctor Who writer) Robert Holmes as the script editor, and then wrote numerous stories of his own, including Baker’s debut story, Robot, The Brain Of Morbius, The Horror Of Fang Rock, State Of Decay, and The Five Doctors. After Doctor Who ceased to exist as an active BBC production in the 1990s, Dicks contributed scripts to numerous commercial (but largely fan-made) direct-to-video productions, such as Shakedown, Mindgame, and Mindgame Trilogy. He also wrote for Space: 1999, Big Finish Productions, and the vast majority of Target Books’ voluminous output of Doctor Who novelizations in the 1970s and ’80s, based upon both his own scripts and those of other scriptwriters, which may ironically be the work for which he is ultimately best known.
Actor Robert Forster, a fixture in films and TV since the 1960s, dies at the age of 78 following a brief battle with brain cancer. Cult sci-fi fans may know him best as Captain Dan Holland in 1979‘s The Black Hole or for his regular role in Heroes, but Forster’s credits spanned over 100 movies, the last of which – the Breaking Bad epilogue film El Camino – debuted on Netflix on the day he died. (An appearance in an episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories revival would not premiere until after Forster’s death.) He was the lead in two early 1970s series, Banyon and Nakia, and received an Oscar nomination (and an unexpected resurgence of his career) for his role in Qunetin Tarantino’s 1997 film Jackie Brown. He went on to play regular roles in such series as Karen Sisco, The Grid, Alcatraz, Last Man Standing, and the 2017 revival of Twin Peaks.
Actor Stephen Moore, who originated the woeful voice of Marvin the Android in the original 1978 BBC Radio production of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, dies at the age of 81. Ironically, it was another voice role, in a Czechoslovakian-made production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1959, featuring only puppets, that started Moore’s screen career. He would later go on to play memorable roles in Rock Follies, The New Avengers, Solo, and The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole. In 2010, he appeared as a war-weary Silurian elder opposite Matt Smith in the Doctor Who episode Cold Blood. Having played Marvin’s voice on radio in 1978 and 1979, and reprising the role for the 1981 BBC2 TV adaptation of Hitchhiker’s Guide, Moore returned to play Marvin again in BBC Radio’s early 21st century adaptations of the Hitchhiker’s Guide novels that weren’t directly based on the original radio series.
Dorothy Catherine Fontana, better known by her “indeterminate gender” pen name D.C. Fontana, dies at the age of 80. Originally setting out to be a novelist, she found herself drawn to the business of writing for the then-new medium of television, working her way from secretarial jobs to production assistant and script editor. Some of her earliest work, for TV westerns such as The Tall Man and Ben Casey, went out under her full name; by the time she sold scripts to The Wild Wild West, she found it easier to use a pseudonym (often “Michael Edwards” or “Michael Richards”). As the production secretary for a new series launched in 1963 called The Lieutenant, she was nominally working for executive producer Del Reisman, but often worked alongside the show’s creator, a junior producer named Gene Roddenberry. When The Lieutenant was cancelled after a single season, Roddenberry hired her to work on his next project, a sci-fi series called Star Trek, of which she became the story editor and a frequent scriptwriter, creating several critical points of the series’ backstory, especially involving Spock’s home planet of Vulcan. Work for such shows as Bonanza, Circle Of Fear, The Six Million Dollar Man, Land Of The Lost, and The Fantastic Journey followed; she was effectively the showrunner of the early 1970s animated revival of Star Trek, even though she was credited only as an associate producer. She served as story editor once again on the TV version of Logan’s Run, and, with fellow Star Trek writer David Gerrold, did significant work developing a modern (late 1970s) revival of Buck Rogers for television, only to see much of that work go unused by the eventual showrunner, Glen A. Larson. (She did still write a script for the series, however.) Between 1986 and 1987, she was one of numerous alumni of the original Star Trek to be brought aboard to develop the TV spinoff Star Trek: The Next Generation, but she found the working environment (dominated by Roddenberry’s attorney, Leonard Maizlish) to be stifling, and made no contributions past the first season. (She also had to fight for co-writing credit on the series premiere, Encounter At Farpoint.) Later writing assignments included War Of The Worlds, Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Hypernauts, ReBoot, and the posthumously-produced Roddenberry series Earth: Final Conflict.
Actor Robert Walker Jr., perhaps best known as the troubled Charlie Evans from the classic Star Trek episode Charlie X (1966), dies at the age of 79. The son of a Hollywood acting power couple, Walker was expected from an early age to follow in his father’s footsteps; even after his parents divorced, his new stepfather, David O. Selznick, was a guiding force in his career. Early attempts at movie breakout roles proved less than successful, but Walker made a huge impression on TV audiences, with memorable appearances on Star Trek, The Invaders, and The Time Tunnel in rapid succession; movie success did eventually follow in such films as 1969’s Easy Rider and 1972’s Beware! The Blob, but it was television that provided much of his work. Later TV appearances included guest roles on The Six Million Dollar Man, CHiPs, Dallas, In The Heat Of The Night, and L.A. Law.
L.A. session musician Michael Lamper, who had worked with groups as diverse as The Allman Brothers, Quiet Riot, and Los Lobos, dies at the age of 61. He had also played on solo albums by Tommy Shaw of Styx, Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon, Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Damn Yankees, and numerous others. He was also married (since 1992) to Star Trek: The Next Generation star Marina Sirtis, and had played a non-speaking background role as one of the brutish Gatherers in the third season episode The Vengeance Factor.
Actor Rene Auberjonois, best known in genre circles for playing security chief Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for seven years, dies of metastatic lung cancer at the age of 79. A Tony-winning stage actor who didn’t break into films until Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H in 1970, he quickly became a familiar face on TV (Night Gallery, Ellery Queen, The Jeffersons, The Bionic Woman, Man From Atlantis, Wonder Woman, Beyond Westworld) and in movies (King Kong, The Big Bus, Eyes Of Laura Mars); the early 80s saw a new focus on voice roles for animation, including Smurfs, Super Friends, Challenge Of The Gobots), as well as the regular role of uptight chief of staff Clayton Endicott III on the political comedy Benson from 1980 through 1986. After Benson’s run, more voice work beckoned, including the role of Louis in Disney’s The Little Mermaid in 1989. 1991 saw his first appearance in the Star Trek universe, as warmongering conspirator Colonel West in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, a role which landed on the cutting room floor until those scenes were reinstated for the home video release. In 1992, he was cast as Odo, a pivotal regular character on Deep Space Nine, winning him a new generation of fans as the series ran through 1999. Other genre roles include guest stints on The Outer Limits, Poltergeist: The Legacy, Stargate SG-1, Warehouse 13, The Librarians, and Star Trek: Enterprise (though in a role unrelated to Odo). From 2004 through 2008, he was a regular on the William Shatner legal dramedy Boston Legal.
The chief designer of the 6502 microprocessor (a device credited with breaking Intel’s near-monopoly on the market and kick-starting the personal computer revolution), Chuck Peddle dies at the age of 82. Having already gained experience as part of the team that developed Motorola’s 6800 chip, Peddle realized that there was a need for a cheaper alternative. (At over $300 upon its introduction in 1973, the 6800 was still prohibitively expensive.) Motorola showed no interested in developing an inexpensive alternative, so Peddle defected to rival chip maker MOS, where he brought the 6502 chip to market. Within a few years of its introduction, the 6502 was already the heart of the Apple II, the earliest Atari home computers, the Commodore VIC-20, and the BBC Micro. Variants of the 6500 processor family powered the Commodore 64, the Atari VCS, and the Nintendo Entertainment System, among countless others. He was often credited as the father of the personal computer.
Songwriter and occasional actor Neil Innes, best known for his association with Monty Python, The Rutles, and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, dies unexpectedly at the age of 75. The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s hit “I’m The Urban Spaceman” brought him into the orbit of the Beatles, and he contributed a background track to their 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour. His participation in a later parody of the Beatles, the Rutles, led to TV specials and well-received albums, which counted among their fans and participants the former members of the Beatles themselves. Innes contributed material to the shortened final season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which made him one of only two members outside of the Python troupe to write material for the show (the other was future Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy creator Douglas Adams); his work with the Pythons continued into their feature films in the 1970s and early ’80s; he was also a cast member in the Pythons’ live performances during this period.