As Star Trek begins the celebration of its 50th anniversary, it must be realized that 50 years is a long time. In fact, for many, it is sadly a lifetime in and of itself. Over the course of the past five decades we have unfortunately lost some of the most influential people that helped to make the voyage into the final frontier as memorable as it has been. It seems only fitting that their lives be as memorable. So as Fifty Years in the Final Frontier continues, join me is remembering those who have moved on to their next journey.
GENE RODDENBERRY (Creator of 'Star Trek')
Eugene Wesley 'Gene' Roddenberry was born in El Paso, Texas in 1921 and grew up in Los Angeles, where his father worked as a police officer. As a young adult, Gene flew in nearly a hundred combat missions in World War II as part of the Army Air Forces. Following the war, Gene would work as a commercial pilot (a terrific and very inspirational true story can be found here) and later as a Los Angeles police officer — like his father.
Gene would go on to work as a freelance writer for various television shows before creating and pitching the concept for Star Trek in 1964. The series would be picked up by NBC and aired from 1966 to 1969 before being cancelled. Following Star Trek, Gene would work on various TV pilots that were never picked up in his lifetime (though some would later see airwaves with his name attached) and later return to producing Star Trek with the motion picture franchise and the sequel series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, in 1987.
Roddenberry had two children from his first marriage — Darleen and Dawn — and then a third — Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry — with his second wife, Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel from the original Star Trek). Thanks to the success of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry became the first writer to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and would later be inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
Roddenberry's health started to decline in the late '80s. It had gotten worse following a stroke in 1989. A second stroke in 1991 would lead to partial paralysis and chronic pain. Gene Roddenberry passed away in October 1991 following complications with his breathing while visiting the doctor. Majel Barrett was at his side.
MARK LENARD (Sarek and Romulan Commander)
Mark Lenard was born Leonard Rosenson, the son of a Russian Jewish immigrant, in 1924 and was raised in Michigan. He joined the US Army in 1943 but never saw combat during the second World War and was ultimately discharged from service in 1946. He made a name for himself on stage in such productions as Much Ado About Nothing and later moved his family to Los Angeles where he got a part as one of the three wise men in The Greatest Story Ever Told.
Lenard would, of course, be best known for his roles in Star Trek. Yes, I said roles — plural. Lenard made his first appearance in the series as the franchise's first Romulan, the unnamed Romulan Commander, in the classic episode Balance of Terror. He would also later be seen briefly in Star Trek: The Motion Picture as a Klingon doomed to be killed by V-Ger. However, he would best be known throughout the original series and the film franchise as Spock's father, the Vulcan ambassador known as Sarek.
Along with Star Trek, Mark Lenard would make appearances in such television series as Gunsmoke, Little House on the Prairie, Mission: Impossible and Planet of the Apes. He would continue making appearances as Sarek in the feature films Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In 1991, he would make his second appearance as Sarek on Star Trek: The Next Generation wherein his beloved character met his end after a battle with a Vulcan illness. That same year he still made one more appearance in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Mark Lenard was married to Ann Amouri and they had two children. He died from Multiple Myeloma in 1996.
DeFOREST KELLEY (Leonard "Bones" McCoy)
Jackson DeForest Kelley was born in Toccoa, GA in 1920 to a Baptist minister — Ernest David Kelley — and had an older brother. Following a term of service in the Army Air Forces during World War II, DeForest decided to try his hand at acting. After being "discovered" filming a Navy training video, DeForest got his first gigs in the films Fear in the Night and Variety Girl. Following a career making appearances in various television series and films, DeForest would land the role that would ultimately bring him the most success — Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy — on Star Trek.
Following the success of the character, Kelley would find himself as the third actor to get top billing in the series opening credits (behind William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy). After Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, Kelley found himself the victim of typecasting and all but retired from acting — except for continuing to play Dr. McCoy in the Star Trek films — with his last appearance being in 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. He had also helped pass the torch to the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation by appearing in the show's pilot episode as a 137 year old Dr. McCoy.
Like most actors from Star Trek, Kelley found additional success making convention appearances. He enjoyed meeting his fans and often recounted how flattered he was that many of them became doctors after having been inspired by his character on the show.
Post-Star Trek, Kelley became a writer of poetry and published the first two books of a series that would ultimately be left unfinished. DeForest Kelley passed away from stomach cancer on June 11, 1999. Prior to his death, in an interview with TLC, Kelley quipped that one of his fears would be that his headstone would read "He's Dead, Jim."
JAMES DOOHAN (Montgomery "Scotty" Scott)
James Montgomery 'Jimmy' Doohan was born in 1920 to Irish immigrant parents and grew up in British Columbia, Canada and was the youngest of four children. Doohan joined the Royal Canadian Artillery during the second World War and his first combat mission was the Invasion of Normandy (commonly known as D-Day) at Juno Beach.
Following a scholarship at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City, Doohan would go on to have a career making numerous television appearances on such classic shows as: The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, Fantasy Island and an episode of the popular western series Bonanza (in which he co-starred with Majel Barrett).
After auditioning for the role of the chief engineer on Star Trek using a variety of different accents, Gene Roddenberry asked Doohan which accent he liked best, which is how Chief Montgomery Scott became Scottish. The colorful personality that Doohan applied to Scotty became one of the highlights of the series and classic lines like "I'm giving her all she's got, Captain!" were born.
Doohan's penchant for accents was of great benefit to Roddenberry, who cast Doohan as multiple characters, in addition to Scotty, on the subsequent Star Trek: The Animated Series — including navigator Arex.
Much like DeForest Kelley, Doohan was typecast following the cancellation of Star Trek and found little work outside of the film franchise and convention appearances. However, it was at conventions and behind the scenes where Jimmy Doohan made some of his greatest contributions. Along with helping to develop the Klingon and Vulcan languages, Doohan made quite the impression on fans and would often perform songs and tell stories to them.
In the documentary film, Trekkies, Doohan recounts a story where a fan wrote to him to express gratitude for his portrayal of Scotty but said that she was planning to commit suicide. He wrote back, asking that she come see him at a convention appearance he was making and subsequently told her to come see him again at his next appearance. He would later find out that, not only had his requests saved her life, but that she went back to school for engineering.
Doohan was married three times and had seven children, with his last one having been born in 2000. His son, Chris, currently plays Scotty on the web series Star Trek Continues. James Doohan died from pulmonary fibrosis in June of 2005.
MAJEL BARRETT (Nurse Chapel)
Majel Barrett-Roddenberry was born Majel Leigh Hudec in 1932. Her father was a police officer in Cleveland who had been killed in the line of duty while she was traveling with an off Broadway production. Her early film and television credits included roles in Bonanza, Leave it to Beaver and The Lieutenant (which was an earlier series produced by Gene Roddenberry). She received comedy training from Lucille Ball.
Majel co-starred in the original pilot for Star Trek (The Cage) as the Enterprise's first officer. When the series was picked-up following it's revised pilot, her role had shifted to that of Head Nurse Christine Chapel. She married Gene Roddenberry, after having been romantically involved for a number of years, in Japan in 1969 while he was scouting for another project. The two had a son, Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, soon after.
Majel Barrett would go on to have major roles in the future of Star Trek, whether the audience realized it or not. She frequently recurred as Lwaxana Troi (the mother of regular character Deanna Troi) on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. She also served as the voice of the computer interface for the Enterprise and Deep Space Nine space station, as well as the ship's computer on the third spin-off, Star Trek: Voyager.
Following Gene's death, Majel helped bring two of his abandoned projects to fruition by producing the series Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda. She also commissioned Celestis Inc., which specialized in memorial spaceflights, and launched part of Gene's ashes into space. Majel Barrett-Roddenberry died, following a battle with Leukemia, at her home on December 18, 2008.
RICARDO MONTALBAN (Khan Noonien Singh)
Ricardo Montalban was born Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalbán y Merino in 1920 and was a versatile Mexican-American actor. He moved to Los Angeles as a teenager and later to New York City, where he started working on stage. Throughout the 1950s and '60s he was one of the hardest working ethnic actors, sometimes playing multiple ethnicities including French and Japanese.
Ricardo married Georgiana Young in 1944 and the two had four children together. In the late '60s, he was cast as the iconic villain — Khan Noonien Singh — in the classic Star Trek episode 'Space Seed'. Though the character only appeared in the one episode of the original series, Ricardo would go on to reprise the part in the franchise's fan-favorite film installment, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. He would later say that his only regret was that he never shared a scene with William Shatner for the popular sequel (a fact that I actually never really seemed to notice until I researched this piece).
Montalban would be best known throughout the '70s and '80s for the role of Mr. Roarke on the popular television series, Fantasy Island. During this period, Montalban was actually a pop icon. In 1975 he also became the TV spokesperson for Chrysler, where his smooth accent helped the popularity of the catchphrase "soft Corinthian leather."
In 1951, Montalban was thrown from a horse while filming Across the Wide Missouri, which aggravated a spinal condition that he had been born with. The injury never healed and in 1993 he underwent a spinal surgery that left him paralyzed from the waist down. However, not letting that get him down, Montalban went on to work as a voice actor for various projects and also appeared in the Spy Kids franchise.
Ricardo Montalban passed away from congestive heart failure in January 2009 and was buried next to his wife.
LEONARD NIMOY (Spock)
Leonard Simon Nimoy was born in Boston in 1931 as the son to Jewish immigrants – whom had immigrated separately and reunited in the United States. His father, Max, was a barber. Nimoy began acting at the young age of 8 and wished to pursue it professionally, though his parents advised against it and preferred he go for a more stable career. However, his grandfather encouraged his acting career and Leonard went on to study drama at Boston College.
He performed in small stage productions throughout the '50s, while also serving in the Army Reserves for 18 months. Between acting jobs, to have a stable income, he also worked at an ice cream parlor. One of Nimoy's first big breaks as an actor came with the science fiction serial Zombies of the Stratosphere in 1952 (sometimes considered to be a precursor to his career as Spock). He would also go on to make appearances on popular television shows of the time, such as The Outer Limits, The Untouchables, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (an episode in which he co-starred for the first time with William Shatner).
Nimoy co-starred with Jeffery Hunter in the pilot episode of Star Trek (The Cage) and was the only actor to reprise his original pilot character when the show went to series after the second pilot. The character of Spock became an immediate fan favorite and was the character that people most attributed to the series, despite being second to William Shatner's Captain Kirk.
Following the cancellation of Star Trek, Nimoy immediately went to work on the series Mission: Impossible for two seasons and would continue to work steadily on other shows and films throughout the years. In 1975 he wrote his first autobiography, I Am Not Spock, which depicted the struggle of identifying himself from the popular Star Trek character. A follow up, I Am Spock, would come out in 1995 and revealed his acceptance of the character and what it did for him.
Nimoy would return to the character of Spock through the '80s and early '90s for the original six feature films and a 2-episode guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation. During that time, he also directed the third and fourth films of the franchise. Following 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Nimoy would not dawn the famous pointed ears again until 2009 (and subsequently 2013) with J.J. Abrams's theatrical reboot of the original series.
Post-Star Trek, Nimoy found work as a voice actor for such projects as Transformers: The Movie (1986) and in recurring roles playing himself on Futurama. He would also go on to make appearances on the popular sci-fi series Fringe around the time of the Star Trek reboots. Outside of acting, Nimoy was also a respected photographer whose work had been exhibited during a period after Mission: Impossible when he was considering the notion of switching careers.
Leonard was married twice and had two children, Julie and Adam. His son, Adam Nimoy, is currently working on a documentary about his father and the impact of the Spock character. Leonard Nimoy passed away in February 2015 following a fight with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Just before his death, Leonard left his fans with this final Twitter message:
Jeffrey Hunter played Captain Christopher Pike in the pilot episode of Star Trek and again in the two parter, The Menagerie. He was also known for playing Jesus Christ in The King of Kings (1961). Hunter suffered a stroke and passed away from complications in 1969.
Roger C. Carmel played Harry Mudd in a couple of Star Trek's more memorable episodes, the first of which being Mudd's Women. After the series was cancelled a Harry Mudd spin-off was considered but not picked up. He passed away from congestive heart failure in 1986.
Frank Gorshin played Bele in the classic episode Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Though Gorshin had a long and extensive career, he would probably be best known as The Riddler for 10 episodes of the 1960s Batman series and it's movie. Gorshin passed away in 2005.
Gracie Lee Whitney played Yeoman Janice Rand for 8 episodes of the series before ultimately being phased out. She would reprise the role later in the feature films and an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. She passed away from natural causes in 2015.
Yvonne Craig was one of the green skinned Orion Slave girls on Star Trek. Though not necessarily an integral character, the species would go on to be one of the most fondly remembered of the original series. Craig was best known for playing Batgirl on the '60s Batman series. She also passed away in 2015.
And that brings this somber piece to a close. Though I'm well aware that many other guest stars, writers and producers from Star Trek have also departed us, there's unfortunately just not enough time or words to go through them all. However, they are never forgotten and the appreciation for what they helped bring us never will be either.
Follow me on Twitter (@ThisIsJamesT) to be kept apprised of where this series will boldly go next. Fifty Years in the Final Frontier continues next month with looks into the film franchise, the Star Trek animated series and the aborted Phase II project. Until then, live long and prosper.
Gene Roddenberry Wikipedia | Mark Lenard Wikipedia | DeForest Kelley Wikipedia | James Doohan Wikipedia | Trekkies (1997)| Majel Barrett Wikipedia | Ricardo Montalban Wikipedia | Leonard Nimoy Wikipedia |