The end of the year brings along with it a lot of things—snow (depending on where you live), gift-giving, too many cookies, and of course, a lot of time spent reflecting on the past 12 months. While looking back can bring joy, it can also bring a bit of sadness. This is one of our least favorite things to have to write, of course, but it’s important to mark the passing of folks in the genre industry who inspired so many.
Julie Adams, the bathing suit-clad beauty who caught the googly eyes of the Gill-man in 1954 Universal Monster classic The Creature From the Black Lagoon, was way more than just a damsel in distress. Her character, the sensitive and intelligent lab assistant Kay Lawrence, brought some necessary balance to the Amazon expedition at the center of the film—a testosterone-fueled affair that makes the viewer wonder exactly who the monster really is in this story. Adams’ career spanned seven (!) decades and saw her working mostly in TV, but her status as one of horror’s most memorable leading ladies will forever be her legacy. When she passed, no less an admirer than The Shape of Water’s Guillermo del Toro tweeted a simple but moving testimonial: “It hurts in a place deep in me, where monsters swim.”
Beloved by Star Trek fans as Deep Space Nine’s curmudgeonly shapeshifter with a heart of gold, Constable Odo, Auberjonois will be remembered not just for the humor he brought to the series as the titular station’s put-upon security chief, but the pathos he brought to Odo’s quest to understand who he was and where he came from. Not only did he strike that balance to create one of the series’ most compelling characters, he did it encased in the heavy makeup required to give Odo his alien appearance—and that Auberjonois’ nuanced performance always shone through was a testament to his commitment to the character.
Robert Axelrod was the voice behind Lord Zedd, one of the most-famous Mighty Morphin Power Rangers villains. Serving alongside Rita Repulsa, later getting married and having a child with her, Lord Zedd represented a shift—and eventual course-correction—in the Power Rangers franchise. He was the first American-made villain in the series, who was introduced as so dark and intimidating (largely thanks to Axelrod’s performance) that parents asked he be “toned down” in later seasons. Axelrod also had prominent roles in The Blob, Robotech, and Digimon. But it was his role as the imposing, and later kind of silly, Power Rangers villain that stayed with audiences for generations.
Disney fans were devastated when they learned that star Cameron Boyce, 20, had passed away just before Descendants 3 was about to come out. His parents said he passed away in his sleep after having a seizure, which was related to an ongoing medical condition. Boyce played Carlos de Vil, child of Cruella de Vil, in the Descendants series. He wasn’t the biggest star of the franchise, but had a lot of heart and clearly a great deal of talent. Disney unveiled a touching tribute to the young actor during the premiere of Descendants 3, which was dedicated to his memory.
John Carl Buechler
Horror makeup and special effects artist John Carl Buechler was behind some of the scariest faces in modern horror. He was responsible for creating the special effects in films like Hatchet, Deep Freeze, and Troll (he also directed Troll, along with other horror flicks like Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood). Other films you can spot his special effects work in include Halloween, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and quite possibly the scariest film in cinema history: The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.
Descriptors like “cult hero” get tossed around a lot, but Larry Cohen was the real deal. He left behind a wild filmography that includes blaxploitation classics (1973’s Black Caesar) and the script for Joel Schumacher’s 2002 nail-biter Phone Booth, but also an array of bonkers B-movie triumphs, any single one of which would’ve elevated his career to legendary status. Take your pick: killer-baby saga It’s Alive, killer alien-twin saga God Told Me To, killer ancient-bird saga Q: The Winged Serpent, or killer dessert-topping saga The Stuff. Actually, don’t pick. Celebrate this unique talent by watching all four, and add in the very good doc King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen for good measure, context, and entertaining commentary from the great man himself.
Comics artist and editor Ernie Colón has a lasting legacy in graphic novels. A veteran of the industry for over six decades, Colón co-created beloved characters like DC Comics’ Amethyst and Marvel’s Damage Control. Some of his other notable works include Vampirella and Marvel’s adaptation of Battlestar Galactica. However, it wasn’t just superheroes and comic book characters; he worked with Sid Jacobson to create a graphic novel adaptation of the 9/11 Commission Report, and later teamed up with Amethyst co-creator Dan Mishkin to adapt the Warren Commission Report’s investigation into President Kennedy’s assassination.
Howard Cruse, comic book writer and founding editor of the Gay Comix anthology series, was an early and vital voice in LGBTQ comics. He’s perhaps best known for DC’s Stuck Rubber Baby, a powerful graphic novel about a young black man in the 1960s who’s grappling with his sexuality while in the midst of the American civil rights movement. However, his legacy started much earlier with the creation of Gay Comix, an anthology designed to publish and promote work by openly gay comics creators. By working to give LGBTQ writers and artists a voice, Cruse helped define a generation.
Best known to genre fans for his role in the cult British sci-fi classic Blake’s 7, Darrow played Kerr Avon, a self-centered scoundrel who joined the titular Blake’s revolution only to line his pockets. But while Darrow’s grim anti-hero earned him plenty of fans, it was Avon being thrust into the show’s limelight when Gareth Thomas departed the series after two seasons that left Darrow to shoulder the show and become its unlikely hero. It was a role he’d be associated with the rest of his life; his final work, being released next year, is a Blake’s audio drama from Big Finish.
Script editor on Doctor Who during one of the show’s most experimental periods—the transition from the second to third Doctors, which saw the Time Lord punished by his people and exiled to Earth, helping UNIT face alien threats without access to his time-travel machine—Dicks helped write and guide nearly 150 episodes of the series. But his indelible mark on the series itself aside, Who fans will also cherish Dicks for his work as a novelist. Dicks would go on to write more than 60 of the show’s novelizations under the Target imprint, providing a lifeline for young fans to past adventures in an age with no TV repeats—and creating a legacy still being explored today, with the Target name returning to adapt current episodes of the show.
He did it for the honor of Greyskull. Television writer Larry DiTillio was the creator of She-Ra and one of the driving forces behind He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. He was also a writer on several beloved shows, like Babylon 5, The Real Ghostbusters, Swamp Thing, and Beast Wars: Transformers. DeTillio’s biggest contribution, She-Ra, continues to live on in Noelle Stevenson’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on Netflix, which will also be seeing a new adaptation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
Actor Billy Drago may be most famous for his role as Frank Nitti in The Untouchables, as well as roles on The X-Files and Moonlighting, but genre fans remember him fondly as Barbas, the Demon of Fear, on Charmed. He was only supposed to be on the show for one episode—hence why he’s killed off at the end of it—but he was so popular the network found ways to bring him back again and again, for a total of six episodes over five seasons.
The Star Trek universe mourned the surprising loss of Eisenberg this year, known for his role as Deep Space Nine’s unruly young Ferengi, Nog. Eisenberg took Nog on a compelling arc throughout his time on the show, first as Jake Sisko’s disruptive bad influence of a best friend, then as a Starfleet cadet trying to escape the shadow of his species’ reputation, and ultimately as a wounded veteran of the show’s Dominion War, having to deal with severe trauma.
Horror is a genre that spans all mediums and the life of Dennis Etchison was a celebration of that. Etchison was a horror novelist who wrote dozens of books during the ‘80s and ‘90s, winning the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2017. Stephen King often celebrated his work, and in one case, asked for his consultation on the 1981 non-fiction book Danse Macabre. For movie fans, Etchison is best known for writing several film novelizations, such as The Fog, as well as Halloween II and III. Etchison carved out a niche for himself and did it incredibly well.
Look up the term “Hollywood producer” in the dictionary and you’ll see a photo of Robert Evans. Evans, with his big sunglasses and bigger personality, was the personification of 20th century Hollywood. Along the way, he produced more than a few masterpieces, such as The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby, and Chinatown. Later he was immortalized in his autobiography called The Kid Stays in the Picture, which was later turned into a popular documentary film. Those works introduced Evans to a whole new generation, letting us peek behind the curtain of a world long gone.
Peter Allan Fields
A powerhouse of a writer with credits across everything from Xena to The Six Million Dollar Man, Fields will be best remembered by Star Trek fans for helping to shape some crucial episodes of both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Although his DS9 work was more prolific, contributing to iconic episodes like “In the Pale Moonlight” and “Duet” that tackled some of the series’ most challenging moral conflicts, Fields will more likely forever be associated for his collaboration with Morgan Gendel on TNG’s “The Inner Light,” the tragic Picard-focused story where the Enterprise Captain finds himself living another life on an alien world.
A pioneer for female writers in television, D.C. Fontana started out as Gene Roddenberry’s secretary while he worked on the short-lived The Lieutenant and came over with him when he started work on what would become Star Trek. But after expressing an interest in becoming a writer herself, Fontana would go on to help shape some of Star Trek’s earliest stories, quickly becoming the show’s Story Editor for its first two seasons, not just guiding its tone and style but contributing important episodes herself, like the Spock-centric “Journey to Babel.” Her contribution to the series wouldn’t stop there: after stepping down as editor, Fontana provided episodes for the third and final season of the original series as a freelancer and went on to executive produce its animated continuation.
Genre fans’ first encounter with Robert Forster may have been 1979 Disney oddity The Black Hole, but after several intervening decades of solid work, he really rose to prominence when Quentin Tarantino cast him as a sympathetic bail bondsman in Jackie Brown. That Oscar-nominated performance opened new career doors galore for Forster, whose commanding yet understated screen presence often suggested a world-weary tough guy with a deep sense of loyalty and integrity. Though he popped up all over the place after his late-career resurgence, io9 readers might recognize him most from his work with David Lynch. Forster briefly appeared as a curious Hollywood detective in Mulholland Drive, and stepped up as laconic Sheriff Frank Truman in Twin Peaks’ recent Showtime revival. Lynch, who revealed a few years ago that schedule conflicts prevented him from casting Forster in the original Twin Peaks series, offered a lovely tribute to his longtime friend, telling Deadline “he was a great actor and a great human being.”
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection. The lovers, the dreamers, and me. Director James Frawley was the visual visionary behind The Muppets Movie, the first film in a longstanding and beloved franchise. He started out as an actor, appearing in shows like The Outer Limits, before finding his calling as a director on shows like The Monkees. He may have only done the first Muppets film, but his dedication to bringing Jim Henson’s vision to life on the big screen was the spark needed to turn The Muppets into everything it is today.
The Taiwanese actor died suddenly earlier this year at age 35. He was in the midst of filming a Chinese reality show when he collapsed and sources say he went into cardiac arrest. He was best known to genre fans as Magnus Bane from The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, but he also dubbed the Mandarin version of Ken for Disney’s Toy Story 3 in 2010.
Probably the most insensitive thing you could say about a person after they pass is “Get him a body bag!” But in the one person in the entire world that doesn’t apply to is Rob Garrison. Garrison is best known for playing Tommy in The Karate Kid franchise, the Cobra Kai pretty boy who screams that line in the finale of the original film. In the decades past, the line has become iconic and so too has Garrison’s character, which he reprised in 2019 in the recent season of Cobra Kai. That show paid tribute to him beautifully with a Cobra Kai reunion and trip down memory lane. Garrison is an actor who, due to that one line alone, will never leave ours.
Cosmo Genovese was the internet before there was an internet: He was a script supervisor, the person on set whose job it is to make sure the scenes being filmed fit in with everything else that has been filmed. Basically, a professional plot hole filler. And Genovese did that job for almost half a century on some of the biggest shows in the world. Perry Mason, The A-Team, and a few shows you may have heard of like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. If you want to talk about legacy, think about that. Those shows make sense because of the work of Cosmo Genovese.
The veteran actor was already known for his memorable, physically imposing roles in exploitation movies (Quentin Tarantino, obviously a fan, cast him as a judge in 1997’s Jackie Brown)—but his cult fame escalated exponentially in recent years thanks to the horror films of Rob Zombie. Haig’s turn as sinister clown Captain Spaulding in House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and 3 From Hell endeared him to a whole new generation of genre fans. Special effects legend Tom Savini remembered his friend with great fondness: “A great mate to hang with. An enthralling storyteller. A class act. One of a kind. [A] historical landmark that will [be] missed forever.”
We lost this iconic genre actor this year after a brief illness. Having starred in Ladyhawke, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, Batman Begins, and True Blood (just to name a few), Hauer was already thoroughly embedded in sci-fi history thanks to his role in 1982's Blade Runner. Replicant Roy Batty made a significant impression, not only from his dramatic stature but that incredible speech in the rain we’ll never forget.
The veteran film, TV, and theater actor’s career stretched all the way back to the 1950s, but one of his earliest screen credits ended up being one of his most iconic roles: 1954’s The Fly. Though most people remember David Cronenberg’s much, uh, oozier 1986 version, Hedison’s turn as a scientist who accidentally morphs into a hideous human-fly hybrid is just as terrifying and full of anguish. Hedison’s other credits include the captain of a sci-fi submarine in 1960s TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and James Bond’s CIA associate Felix Leiter, playing opposite Hedison’s real-life good friend Roger Moore in Live and Let Die and License to Kill.
DC Comics’ Jonathan Kent is a beloved character and Eddie Jones portrayed him as a warm and calming influence on all who knew him during his time on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. But Jones had an expansive career dating all the way back to 1958. The Interact Theater Company, of which he was a member, shared this note upon his passing: “An actor of keen wit and sharp instinct, when Eddie was on stage, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. When he was off-stage, his broad, bright smile would light up the room. Everyone who knew Eddie as a friend, or had the good fortune to share the stage with him, was touched by his gentle and generous nature.”
Comic artist Tom Lyle co-created Stephanie Brown (a.k.a. Spoiler) and the Electrocutioner for DC Comics along with Chuck Dixon back in the early ‘90s. His career began in the early ‘80s but he went on to illustrate the first Robin solo series (with Dixon writing) which spawned a few miniseries afterward. His work wasn’t confined to DC, however, also working on several Spider-Man comics and the Punisher at Marvel, and Star Wars for Dark Horse, among others.
Actors who get cast in small, supporting roles certainly don’t expect to see that live on. But for Barbara March, that’s exactly what happened. The classically trained Canadian actress played a Klingon named Lursa, sister of B’Etor, on Star Trek: The Next Generation. One episode became three, which then got her onto a second series (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) briefly, and finally a movie (Star Trek: Generations), making Lursa one of the most popular Klingons in the Star Trek universe.
The beloved man behind Star Wars’ most stalwart sidekick, Chewbacca the Wookiee, Mayhew embodied the beloved “walking carpet” with a remarkable warmth and nuance that transcended the fact that he was hidden under mounds of furry costuming and never actually spoke outside of growls and roars. Playing Chewie from the first film all the way up to The Force Awakens, even then Mayhew would not stop being Chewie; he helped guide his successor in the role, Joonas Suotamo (who stepped in for scenes on The Force Awakens before formally taking the role in The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker, and the spinoff Solo: A Star Wars Story) in the physicality that defined the kind-hearted Wookiee warrior.
As you settle in for your annual holiday viewing of Gremlins, pour out a little nog for the movie’s Murray Futterman, the bumbling neighbor embodied by reliably hilarious character actor Dick Miller. Over his long and colorful career, Miller—a favorite of Gremlins director Joe Dante—popped up in “that guy” roles in a dizzying array of movies, including The Terminator (as “Pawn Shop Clerk”), Explorers, Chopping Mall, Night of the Creeps, Innerspace, The ‘Burbs, The Howling, and many more. He was often only onscreen for just one scene, but through sheer force of personality, he was always memorable no matter what random part he was playing.
Best known for playing Violet in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, no one could ever forget bubble-gum chewing Denise Nickerson, but the actress mostly worked in television. She had a significant stint on gothic soap opera Dark Shadows and featured in 130 episodes of the educational TV series The Electric Company.
Although he became better known by his pen name, mangaka Kazuhiko Katou’s career began in the mid-1960s with Playboy School. But just three years later he would debut a new creation that would go on to capture the hearts and minds of readers across Japan and eventually the world: Lupin III. The descendant of the legendary gentleman thief, Monkey Punchi’s Lupin manga told crime capers, love stories, and wild adventures, which would go on to be adapted into highly influential and beloved anime series for both the big and small screens—including Hayao Miyazaki’s first animated film as a director, the sublime The Castle of Cagliostro.
The actor, who passed away at just 52 this year following a stroke, was loved by a generation thanks to his role as Dylan on Beverly Hills, 90210, but went on to garner another youthful following playing Archie’s dad Fred Andrews on Riverdale. Unlike a lot of young actors, Perry never got typecast, going on to star in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, voicing characters on The Simpsons and The Incredible Hulk, and doing plenty of stage work. A statement from Riverdale’s producers really said it all: “Luke was everything you would hope he would be: an incredibly caring, consummate professional with a giant heart, and a true friend to all.”
Colorist James Rochelle worked in the comics industry for 25 years, helping shape the look of titles for WildStorm and CrossGen Comics; he also worked as a shader and texture artist on video games. DC’s Jim Lee, the founder of WildStorm, tweeted a tribute, calling Rochelle “as gifted as he was good natured, kind and brilliant” and noting that “no job could property contain his many talents.”
William Morgan Sheppard
The actor, a Royal Shakespeare Company alum, became part of the Star Trek family by guest-starring on multiple series (The Next Generation, Voyager); he also played a Klingon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and had an uncredited role as a Vulcan in the 2009 Star Trek reboot. He also appeared in an extensive array of other movies and TV shows (The Prestige, Max Headroom), and his voice-acting talents endeared him to fans of the 1990s animated series Gargoyles. In addition, he contributed to video games as wide-ranging as Civilization V, Medal of Honor, and Escape From Monkey Island.
Artists dream of being remembered for something unforgettable and comic book artist Ron Smith certainly achieved that. Smith was the primary artist on Judge Dredd for much of the 1980s and 1990s. In that time he created the iconic, unforgettable look of the popular character: square-jawed, stocky, with an amazing, vibrant costume and badass helmet. Before comics, Smith fought in World War II and retired from the business soon after leaving Dredd. And yet, that was more than enough to make him immortal in the eyes of comic fans.
The beloved puppeteer brought Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life on Sesame Street for decades; he was there when the series debuted in 1969, and he only retired in 2018, well into his 80s. In tribute, Muppets alum Frank Oz tweeted that “almost 50 years ago Carrol was working with Jim [Henson] on Oscar’s voice in the small Muppets Studio on 53rd Street and 2nd [Ave] in NYC. But it was Big Bird who grew into being the character most emblematic of Sesame Street. And Carrol’s spirit made that happen. What an amazing legacy.”
The Comics Reporter creator Tom Spurgeon passed away unexpectedly at 50 last month. He was a true friend to the comics industry as a whole, whether it was via journalism or writing his own books and comics. Calvin Reid said in his Publisher’s Weekly obit of the writer, “Spurgeon was also a relentless advocate for the improvement of the welfare and working conditions of comics writers and artists working in the work-for-hire environment of commercial comics publishing.” It only took a cursory glance at comics Twitter upon the news of his passing to see how much he meant to so many.
An io9 contributor in the site’s formative years, journalist and author Scott Timberg also worked as a reporter at the L.A. Times and authored the 2015 book Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class, a look at how advancements in technology and the raging dominance of the internet have taken a devastating economic and spiritual toll on artists and other creative types. His io9 posts often delved into similar themes, including this roundup of “soft apocalypse” stories; he also wrote about robot armies, artificial eyelids, mermen, and other futuristic and fantastical topics.
When people think of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? they think of Robert Zemeckis, Bob Hoskins, and Jessica Rabbit. But Richard Williams should probably be at the top of the list, too. Williams was the animation director on the classic Disney film, which basically means he directed half the movie. He won two of the film’s three Oscars, which he put on a shelf next to his other Oscar (for the 1973 animated short A Christmas Carol), Emmy, and BAFTA. Add to that work on the Pink Panther series, Casino Royale (the old one), and many more, and you’ve got the career of a true legend.
“I do not know what I expected, but whatever I imagined the author of those glittering, dangerous stories to have been, I was not expecting the genial gentleman I met,” Neil Gaiman wrote of Gene Wolf, who he named as one of his heroes, back in 2011. In 2015, Wolfe was profiled by writer Peter Bebergal in a New Yorker article evocatively titled “Sci-Fi’s Difficult Genius” (a recommended read for anyone curious about the author) which recalls that “Ursula K. Le Guin once called Wolfe ‘our Melville.’” Wolf, who was named a Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master in 2012, leaves behind a body of work that includes the award-winning four-part series The Book of the New Sun, which kicked off his “Solar Cycle” of related works.
If you watched television in the 1980s or ‘90s, you knew Max Wright. He was best known for playing Willie Tanner, the dad on ALF, but he popped up basically, everywhere: Quantum Leap, Friends, Murphy Brown, Murder She Wrote, Cheers, Mad About You, you name it; he was also in The Stand miniseries, The Shadow movie, and many more. Wright had that lovable, relatable, “dad thing” down pat, as well as being a fine character actor. The two proved to be the right combination for a robust career.
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