Wednesday, July 20, 2005

R.I.P. James Doohan 1920-2005

James Doohan, Star Trek's beloved Scotty, died on July 20, the 36th anniversary of the first steps taken on another celestial body by a human being. Doohan's last public appearance was at a convention held in his honor last August in Hollywood.

At the benefit dinner held as part of that convention, Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, was a featured speaker. Addressing Doohan as his character Scotty, Armstrong said, "From one old engineer to another, thanks, mate."

That tribute is fitting today. Doohan was an actor who probably sacrificed a different kind of career to remain dedicated to Star Trek, its fans and its ideals. Like other members of the original cast, he had hard life experiences that informed his feelings about those Star Trek ideals. In his case it was war. He was seriously wounded in the D-Day landings in June 1944.

When I was interviewing various people associated with Star Trek for my New York Times article, just before and during the Scotty convention, everyone I asked spoke enthusiastically and warmly about Doohan. "I love Jimmy Doohan," LeVar Burton said flatly, as did director-writer Nicholas Meyer, and others. Jonathan Frakes said the same in an email, adding that he always had a great time with Doohan when they met at conventions.

By some sort of coincidence, I watched his TNG episode, "Relics," on DVD the night before his death. In fact, I watched it twice. Though known for many indelible moments in the series and the feature films, this was probably his best sustained performance on Star Trek.

Here is a link to my other photos from the Scotty convention. In that final gathering of the Enterprise crew, Nichelle Nichols concern for Doohan, and sadness over his condition, was most evident. My condolences to his family and friends. Those of us who knew him on the screen still have those moments, and are grateful for his presence and his spirit.

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