Some actors we forget about after retirement; others work until their last day. We remember them upon their passing in this obituary category.
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Filed under Fade to Black, Star Trek; Comments Off on In Memory of Leonard Nimoy
It's been hard to come to terms with the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the actor who brought Star Trek's half-Vulcan science officer to life and created a cultural phenomenon that would persist for generations — including within my own family.
My father introduced me to Star Trek when The Next Generation premiered in 1987. At that age, I didn't understand that different people led different lives, and I went to school the next day thinking all my classmates had watched it, too. I spent my recess talking about Star Trek to anyone on the playground who would listen, nonplussed when they weren't as excited as I was. It wasn't until years later that I learned of IDIC — Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations: that differences are to be not just tolerated, but celebrated. Decades after discovering Star Trek, I've grown deeply curious about those differences, interviewing people every week to learn about their lives and experiences, so that I never again make that same lunchtime assumption I did in second grade.
My earliest memory of Leonard Nimoy was watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture on VHS with my family. When Spock first beams aboard the Enterprise, whereas Kirk and McCoy are happy to see him, Spock is unmoved by seeing his old crewmates. I asked my parents what was wrong with him, and rather than try to explain the alien suppression of emotions, they just said that Spock didn't remember his friends.
But Vulcan's emotions run deep and hot: they feel everything humans do, even more so, which is why they can't allow themselves to be ruled by their feelings, lest they run amok. I was raised in a family that did not celebrate such passions, so, like Spock, I kept mine reined in. I learned the hard way that it's better to embrace one's humanity… something that Spock at times struggled to understand himself.
— someecards (@someecards) February 27, 2015
Spock wasn't the only one with an identity crisis. I'm too young to remember Nimoy's efforts to break typecasting, which may be for the best: while I try to acknowledge actors' lesser-known works, Nimoy was always Spock to me. And unlike some actors who fade from the limelight, Nimoy always seemed to be doing something special, whether it was as silly as a Priceline commercial, as fun as directing Three Men and a Baby as invisible as voicing a Transformers villain or narrating a video game, as meaningless as singing a silly song, or as meaningful as advocating for diversity in body types. While I may've believed Spock had forgotten his friends, it was impossible for us to forget Spock. It felt like Leonard Nimoy would always be there; waking up on Saturday to a world without him was hard.
I never got to meet Leonard Nimoy. The closest opportunity I had was a Boston convention in November 2009, but I was at a Star Wars concert narrated by Anthony Daniels instead. It was a similar venue in which I did finally see Leonard Nimoy, though: he narrated the Boston Pops' "Out of This World" concert this past May. No one in the audience, least of all me, imagined it was Nimoy's last May in his final trip around the sun.
That concert was a homecoming for Nimoy, being born and raised right in the heart of Boston. He often lent his sonorous voice to his hometown, narrating not just the Boston Pops but also the Boston Museum of Science's Omni Mugar theater. As a student and teacher, child and adult, I've been to the MoS many times; Leonard Nimoy is my earliest memory of it.
Now all we have are memories and Nimoy's exhaustive library of art. There have been and will be other Spocks, of course — most notably Zachary Quinto, but also other incarnations across many fan films, and the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise in novels and other media. But there never will be another Leonard Nimoy.
It's been less than a week, and I miss him already.
I may not have properly expressed or acknowledged, even to myself, Nimoy's importance. I've been going to Apple conventions my entire life, but it wasn't until 2013 that I attended my first Star Trek convention. But both Apple and Star Trek have been fundamental in informing my outlooks and philosophies.
Celebrities aren't my only heroes, but celebrities can help me get to know my heroes. Star Trek is something I've shared with my father ever since TNG's debut. We've been at the opening night of each of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movies. I hesitantly mark our time together by these milestones, knowing that the same COPD that claimed Nimoy now stalks my father. As a friend of mine recently put it, "Time will take all the people I look up to."
But we are fortunate to have had Leonard Nimoy grace us for 83 wonderful years. From wherever he came, he has returned. We salute him and his many contributions to art, science, and humanity. Thank you for so many adventures and missions.
Hailing frequencies closed.
— Andy Marlette (@AndyMarlette) February 27, 2015
Filed under Fade to Black; Comments Off on Pete Postlethwaite Passes
British actor Pete Postlethwaite died Sunday at the age of 64 from cancer.
Mr. Postlethwaite was the sort of actor whose name you might not know, but you'd recognize him in a heartbeat. Perhaps best known for his appearance in The Usual Suspects, he appeared alongside Kevin Spacey again in the comedy The Shipping News as a hard-nosed reporter who bore a grudge. In one of my favorite fantasy films, Dragonheart, he provided comical relief as Brother Gilbert, a wandering friar and would-be minstrel who became troubled when faced with the moral conflict of doing evil for a greater good. He also had roles in movies such as Amistad and Inception, and he earned an Oscar nomination for In the Name of the Father. In these roles and others, he garnered a reputation for his devious, diverse, and nuanced characters.
If you still don't recognize Mr. Postlethwaite's face, you might have heard his voice: "Truth is I thought it mattered, I thought that music mattered. But does it bollocks! Not compared to how people matter." It was he who spoke these opening lines to the song "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba.
Mr. Postlethwaite was born in 1946 in Cheshire, England; became a drama teacher, then a full-time stage actor; broke into television in the late 1980s and Hollywood in the early 1990s; and had two children. He will be missed.
Filed under Fade to Black; 3 comments.
Leslie Nielsen, star of Police Squad, Naked Gun, and Airplane!, died Sunday at the age of 84.
Mr. Nielsen was much loved and fondly remembered for the many laughs the above films brought to generations of American theatergoers, but his legacy is older and more eclectic than many fans may realize. His acting career began with a television appearance 1948, from which he built a diverse portfolio as a talented, serious actor. But it was his turn as Dr. Rumack in the 1980 comedy Airplane! that introduced him to the comedic genre upon which he would establish three decades of celebrity status. The film, itself a parody of Zero Hour!, cast stars who would essentially be playing parodies of the dramatic characters for which they were previously known.
Mr. Nielsen's small but important role in that movie produced what the American Film Institute deemed the 79th top quotation in American cinematic history:
Two years later, Mr. Nielsen cemented his transition to the genre and his status as a comedic powerhouse when he landed the leading role in Police Squad!. In this short-lived television series, he maintained his ability to deliver one-liners with a timing and tone that packed as much punch as any buildup:
Though the show lasted only six episodes, it spun off three feature-length films, something accomplished by not even the likes of Get Smart! or Firefly. Mr. Nielsen went on to play the lead in further spoofs such as Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Spy Hard, and Wrongfully Accused, and appearing in other comedies including Scary Movie 4 and Superhero Movie.
It was just this past Thanksgiving Eve that my girlfriend and I finished watching the complete Police Squad! on DVD. As it aired before she was born, she'd never heard of the show but immediately cottoned to it, riveted to catch every rapid-fire joke and subtle gag. It didn't take us long to decide that we had to give this set as a Christmas gift to introduce even more people to this brief, overlooked, yet valuable contribution Mr. Nielsen made to comedic history. We never expected that he would so soon be a part of history himself, making it especially poignant to discover there will be no more adventures of Frank Drebin.
As the optimistic Wil Wheaton: Leslie Nielsen's in a better place. "A better place? What is it?" A construct to help cope with grief, but that's not important right now.
Filed under Fade to Black; Comments Off on The Legacy of Jive-Speaking Barbara Billingsley
Barbara Billingsley, whose fame was founded by playing mom June Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver but who also enjoyed popularity as a jive-speaking passenger on Airplane! and as Nanny on Muppet Babies, passed away on Saturday at the age of 94, CNN reports.
Although I never saw Ms. Billingsley in her original black-and-white role, I've seen how surprised people are when they realize that the three parts listed above were played by the same person. It's a mark of a talented and open-minded artist that they can and will move so fluidly among a variety of performances. But I wonder if she wasn't the least bit frustrated that she achieved so much fame from such a minor part?
If she did, she graciously never let it show, instead focusing on gratitude for the opportunities it presented, as demonstrated in this interview:
She was a classy lady of a bygone era.
Filed under Fade to Black; 1 comment.
I've woken up each day this weekend to the unexpected passing of a celebrity.
Gary Coleman, best known for playing Arnold Jackson on television series Diff'rent Strokes (1978–1986), passed away on Friday at the age of 42. Despite the fame he achieved in that early role, fortune did not come easily to Mr. Coleman. Nephritis, a condition of the kidney, both stunted his growth and led to several transplants, his first when he was just five. After Strokes' finale, he found that the fortune he should've amassed had been squandered by his adoptive parents. An inability to find work beyond cameos spoofing himself (such as in Norm MacDonald's Dirty Work) led him down unexpected paths — some honorable (working as a security guard; running for governor of California), some not (assault charges, car accidents, suicide attempts). Mr. Coleman became a running joke, even appearing as a main character in the Broadway musical Avenue Q. Finally, an accident at his home in Utah this past Wednesday led to brain hemorrhaging from which he never recovered.
Just a day later, it was announced that Dennis Hopper (with whom Gary Coleman worked in the 2008 comedy An American Carol) had died at the age of 74 from prostate cancer. A veteran of the industry, Mr. Hopper had been appearing in television and films since 1954 in everything from classics such as Easy Rider, Cool Hand Luke, Speed, and Blue Velvet to bombs like Super Mario Bros. and Waterworld.
I think one reason these deaths come as a surprise is the same reason that actors achieve immortality: they are remembered in their prime for their appearances in the films that made them famous. People who think of Gary Coleman still see a child actor, and Dennis Hopper is still thought of for being in Easy Rider at the age of 33. We don't see them aging off-screen and battling the same debilitating health we all face.
I don't know if it is an honor or an injustice to see them this way. Perhaps the best we can do is to know that they will be missed.
Filed under Fade to Black; 1 comment.
Actor Peter Graves died of a heart attack at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., on Sunday, just four days before his 84th birthday. (Story continues)
Mr. Graves had many film credits to his name, including spoofing his own gravitas as Capt. Clarence Oveur in the cult classic Airplane!, but he was perhaps best known for Mission: Impossible, in which he played team leader Jim Phelps, in both the original series (1967–1973) and the revival (1988–1990). His variety of roles demonstrated his talent for both drama and comedy, though his efforts at the former sometimes met with mixed success; It Conquered The World, The Beginning of the End, and Parts: The Clonus Horror were best suited to MST3K fodder. Nonetheless, he took his roles seriously and personally, to the point of expressing regret that Jon Voight's character in the 1996 Mission: Impossible film bore the same name with which Mr. Graves so closely identified.
(Hat tip to the Washington Post)
Filed under Fade to Black; Comments Off on Andrew Koenig's Preventable Passing
More than just the son of a star, Andrew had a diverse performance portfolio spanning decades, from Kirk Cameron's friend "Boner" on the television sitcom Growing Pains, to an appearance on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to playing the villainous Joker in the acclaimed short Batman: Dead End — described as "one of the ten most pivotal moments in fan film history." More recently, he appeared with his father in the independent film InAlienable, written by the senior Koenig, the pair's only collaboration.
Andrew also used his celebrity status for humanitarian causes. As described on Walter Koenig's site:
Andrew was an activist his entire life and was best known to those who knew and loved him as a compassionate, ethical man who lived according to his conscience. He was a vegan, active in environmental causes, and in animal and human rights and was quick to take an active role to help on a grass roots level. Most recently, he had been working on behalf of the people of Burma, and was arrested during the 2008 Rose Bowl parade for protesting American involvement in China's Olympics due to China's support of the Burma military regime.
I was first notified that Andrew was missing by an email to Star Trek: Of Gods and Men fans. I hoped for a happy resolution, but Andrew had been suffering from clinical depression, in which good decisions are hard to make. If Andrew could've understood how many friends and family cared for him and how hurt they are, he may not have chosen this permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Filed under Fade to Black; Comments Off on Frances Reid, of Days of Our Lives, Passes Way
It is with no small degree of sadness that I report the passing of Frances Reid, the last remaining original cast member of the daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives.
I was a Days fan for almost twenty years and enjoyed the continuity of familiar names and faces it provided. None were as constant a presence as Alice and Tom Horton, placed by Frances Reid and Macdonald Carey. It's hard for me to say I grew up with Days of Our Lives, given the rapid aging that so many of its younger characters underwent, but Tom and Alice always seemed so innocent compared to their dark and mysterious neighbors. Sure, there was that time it turned out their marriage was illegitimate, and in indignation, she banished her ersatz husband to the couch — but that was no result of scheming on either spouse's part. They always did their best to be kind and helpful to each other and their loved ones, weathering the storms of the Kiriakis and DiMera families, age, and fate. Even after Mrs. Reid suffered a real-life stroke twenty years ago, she recovered and insisted on returning to the show.
When Macdonald Carey passed away in 1994, his voiceover continued to be heard in the show's opening, maintaining a sense of the duo's involvement in the continuing complications of life in Salem. Although Frances Reid last appeared on the show in 2007, her passing marks the end of an era for the beleaguered show. Though perhaps sentimental, I'd like to share this tribute to Frances Reid, one of several uploaded to YouTube in the past week:
Days of Our Lives' cast members have also offered their own remembrances of this starring lady, in which Deidre Hall (Marlena Evans) offers a different side to the grandmotherly one seen above.