Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 Farewells

On Episode 18: Geek Review 2015 we briefly list some of the actors, directors, producers, and others who passed away this year. (We also spotlight the best and worst geek moments of the year. Listen now.) Here is a fuller listing of the many beloved artists we said farewell to in 2015:

By Roibert Williams via Wikimedia Commons
Longtime television producer Harve Bennett worked at different times for ABC, Universal, Columbia and Paramount with credits on The Mod Squad, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman. When he complained that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was boring, he was asked whether he thought he could do it better. Although he had never seen a single episode of the show, he accepted the challenge, watched all 79 episodes of the original series and created Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which many (perhaps most) fans rank as the best film of the entire Star Trek universe--and he did it with a smaller budget than the first film. He went on to produce the next three films in the series, but turned down the sixth film when it went in a different direction than he had envisioned, which involved using younger actors to portray the classic characters as young cadets during their days at Starfleet Academy--which is interestingly where the J.J. Abrams reboot takes its starting point. He died on Feb. 25 at age 84 of multiple embolisms.

Director and visual effects artist Nancy Bernstein died of colorectal cancer on Sept. 18 at age 55. Her credits include The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, X-Men and Rise of the Guardians.

Actor Martin E. Brooks made an historic first in 1976 when he became one of the first two actors to ever portray the same character on two different series. Together with Richard Anderson (as Oscar Goldman), Brooks and his character Rudy Wells crossed over from The Six Million Dollar Man to The Bionic Woman. He passed away on Dec. 7 at age 90. (Anderson is still with us at age 89.)

A producer with a Columbia University law degree, Robert Chartoff and his fellow producer Irwin Winkler won the 1976 Oscar for Best Picture for Rocky. He went on to produce all of the Rocky films, including Creed, which is currently on screens. Among his 30+ other films are The Right Stuff, Raging Bull and Ender’s Game. He died from pancreatic cancer at age 81 on June 10.

By ABC Television via
Wikimedia Commons
Yvonne Craig portrayed Batgirl on the 1960s Batman television series starring Adam West. She also is remembered for her portrayal of an Orion slave girl who wished to kill Captain Kirk on the 1969 "Whom Gods Destroy" episode of Star Trek. An active advocate for free breast cancer screenings, she died from the disease on Aug. 17 at age 78.

Master of horror Wes Craven passed away at the age of 76 from brain cancer. He directed the Nightmare on Elm Street film series introducing the now classic Freddy Krueger character and the Scream series as well as other horror favorites The Hills Have Eyes, The People Under the Stairs and Red Eye. He directed a couple of movies outside of the horror genre and even co-created a five-book graphic novel with Steve Niles, which was released in digital format in 2014 and print format shortly after his death on Aug. 30.

Screenwriter Maurice Hurley, who passed away on Feb. 24 at age 75, is best remembered as the head writer on Star Trek: The Next Generation during its first two seasons. His greatest legacy was his role in have Gates McFadden removed from the show, a decision that did not sit well with fans. After his departure, she was invited to return in the third season and remained with the show to the end, returning for all of the Star Trek films featuring the TNG cast.

Television's original Jimmy Olsen, Jack Larson, passed away on Sept. 20 at age 87. He was featured in the role on the 1950s The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves in the title role. In addition to other roles, he made cameo appearances on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in 1996 and in the 2006 film Superman Returns.

By Manfred Werner-Tsui
via Wikimedia Commons
Active in films and television for 67 years, Sir Christopher Lee launched his acting career after serving in the British Royal Air Force in World War II. He spent much of his early career performing in the classic monster movies, including several appearances as Count Dracula, and in Sherlock Holmes flicks. In the 1970s, he crossed over to more general-audience movies like Disney's Return from Witch Mountain and the 1979 TV film, Captain America II: Death Too Soon as well as Chuck Norris and James Bond films, although usually as the villain. In 1993, he narrated The Nightmare Before Christmas, before going on to be featured in five more Tim Burton films. He really earned his geek credibility with the turn of the new century, taking on the role of the villains Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels. He was presented with his first knighthood in 1997 receiving further British honors in 2001 and 2009 and a French won in 2011. He died of heart failure at age 93 on June 7.

Screenwriter Melissa Mathison got her first break from family friend Francis Ford Coppola as his assistant on The Godfather Part II. She first gained notoriety on the film The Black Stallion in 1979, catching the attention of rapidly rising director Steven Spielberg who collaborated with her on his 1982 film E.T. The Extraterrestrial, for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. She then married Harrison Ford and had two children with him before they divorced 21 years later. Some of her other screenwriting credits include The Indian in the Cupboard and Kundun. Her most recent work, an adaptation of the Roald Dahl book The BFG, is currently in post-production with July 2016 release date. Spielberg is directing. He also is co-producing it with Sam Mercer and Frank Marshall for Disney. Mathison succumbed to neuroendocrine cancer on Nov. with , on Nov. 4 at age 65 from neuroendocrine cancer; won Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for E.T. The Extraterrestrial; second wife of Harrison Ford for 21 years and had two children with him; her final 4 at age 65. 

By NBC Television via
Wikimedia Commons
The biggest loss of the year for most sci fi fans is undoubtedly Leonard Nimoy's death on Feb. 28 from COPD. Internationally lauded for his portrayal of Spock on Star Trek, Star Trek: The Animated Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and eight of the franchise's feature films. The role earned him three Emmy nominations and placed him on TV Guide's list of the 50 greatest television characters. He also appeared in two seasons of the 1960s Mission Impossible series and later appeared regularly on the series Fringe. In addition to prolific voiceover and narrative work, he hosted the documentary series In Search of. He also directed the third and fourth Star Trek movies and wrote the sixth. After his death, an asteroid was named 4864 Nimoy in his honor.

The patriarch of the 1980s TV show Eight Is Enough, Dick Van Patten started his career as a child actor on Broadway in the 1930s. He rose to geek prominence later in his career with roles in the spoofy films Spaceballs and Robing Hood: Men in Tights. Founder of the Natural Balance Pet Foods brand and an advocate for guide dog training, he passed away June 23 of complications from diabetes; he was 86.

Via Wikimedia Commons
Prolific film producer and CEO of United Artists Jerry Weintraub started his career as John Denver's talent agent in 1970s. He went on to manage major tours by legendary artists ranging from Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra to Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin. Once he moved into film production, he was equally as busy, producing all of the Karate Kid films and the reboot of Ocean's Eleven and its sequels. Through his work on the Ocean's films, he became great friends with actors George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Don Cheadle, with whom he founded Not on Our Watch, a human rights organization dedicated to alleviating the genocide in Darfur. Before his death on at age 77 on July 6, he was signed on to produce the film The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgard and Samuel L. Jackson. When it is released in summer 2016, it will be dedicated to his memory.

By Larry D. Moore
via Wikimedia Commons
Grace Lee Whitney is best known as Yeoman (later Chief Petty Officer and then Lt. Commander) Janice Rand in the original Star Trek series, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek III, IV and VI. She reprised the role for an episode of Star Trek: Voyager and on two of the Star Trek web series. After being released from the cast of the original series because producers wanted Captain Kirk to have more love interests, she fell on hard times but DeForest Kelley re-discovered her and encouraged her to become involved in the fan conventions, where the fans had been asking for her. She died of natural causes at the age of 85 on May 1.

Producer Bernard Williams' geeky credits include Flash Gordon in 1980, The Bounty with Mel Gibson in 1984, and Daredevil with Ben Affleck in 2003. He died of cancer at the age 72 on Jan. 4.

Best known for her Oscar-nominated set decoration on the Sandra Bullock film Gravity, Joanne Woollard passed on Feb. 28. Other credits include Hope and Glory and Hackers.

Thanks to all of these great artists for the joy and entertainment they have brought to us. May they rest in peace.

-- First Officer Cheryl, Stardate 2015.12.28

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