It's been a year full of massive stories in the worlds of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and most of it has been a lot of fun. We've seen box-office blockbusters and TV juggernauts, massive plot twists and even bigger casting calls, sagas ended and new sagas begun, and it's all been worth celebrating.
Sadly, though, looking back at 2019 also means looking back at the tragedies, which means it's time to remember those we lost in the world of genre this year. Some of these stars were lifelong devotees to beloved franchises, while others dipped in and out of their imaginary worlds but still managed to make a huge impact. From character actors to world-shaping writers, here are the deaths in 2019 that hit the genre world the hardest.
It's a very big year for the Star Wars franchise — everything from the concluding film in the Skywalker Saga to the first live-action Star Wars series. But it also hasn't been without sadness. Peter Mayhew, the actor best known for playing Chewbacca in the original trilogy, Revenge of the Sith, and The Force Awakens, passed in away in April at the age of 74. Chosen by George Lucas to play the iconic Wookiee on the basis of his height alone, the 7-foot-2 actor went on to become one of the most important figures in Star Wars fandom, and an icon in his own right. The numerous tributes that poured in from both his fans and his co-stars after his passing proved what a giant he was well beyond his stature.
For many other actors, having one of the most important roles (and giving the best monologue) in one of the most important sci-fi films of all time might have been a crowning achievement, more than enough to cement a legacy. Rutger Hauer wasn't most actors. The legendary star, best known for his role as Roy Batty in Blade Runner, passed away in July at the age of 75, and in reflecting on his death, many fans couldn't stop gushing over just how vibrant his entire career was. Hauer will always be remembered for Blade Runner, of course, but also for The Hitcher, Ladyhawke, Batman Begins, Flesh + Blood, Hobo With a Shotgun, Sin City, and many more. His filmography is a towering achievement, and a tribute to his brilliance.
Though Gene Roddenberry is still credited as the creator of Star Trek, the franchise wouldn't be what it is today without several key people who helped shape it. Dorothy Catherine "D.C." Fontana, who passed away Dec. 2 at the age of 80, was one of those people. In the early days of Star Trek: The Original Series, Fontana emerged as one of the most important creative voices in the room, writing episodes including "Charlie X" and "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" before being named the series' story editor. Roddenberry may have laid the foundation, but we owe much of the emotional depth of early Trek to Fontana's trailblazing work on the series.
Unfortunately, any time we look back on the stars we lost in a given year, we have to contemplate those who left us too soon. That's the case with Luke Perry — a gifted actor who turned a role in a '90s teen drama into a prolific and often surprising career, and who passed away in March at the age of just 52 following a stroke. Perry rocketed to stardom through his role on Beverly Hills 90210, and he managed to wield that notoriety in a number of interesting ways. To genre fans he was best known as Pike in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, and enjoyed a significant resurgence in recent years thanks to his role as Fred Andrews, Archie's father, on Riverdale. The tributes that poured in following his sudden death proved that he was not just a good actor, but a good man, and Riverdale's farewell episode this past fall is further evidence of the legacy he leaves.
We've paid tribute to people whose faces we almost never saw on the screen, and we've paid tribute to brilliant performers who touched our lives by inhabiting characters. Caroll Spinney, who passed away Dec. 8 at the age of 85, somehow managed to be both. Through his performances as the puppeteer for both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on the enormously influential Sesame Street, Spinney touched the lives of millions of children over the course of nearly five decades working on the series. He was a member of the original Sesame Street cast in 1969, and crafted his characters under the guidance of Jim Henson himself. Then, even as other members of the original company departed, Spinney just kept going, playing Big Bird and Oscar for 49 years, until his retirement in 2019. You might not know his face, but you've almost certainly seen his work, which for many children and families was some of the most important of the 20th century and beyond.
We refer to quite a few writers in genre fiction as "one of the greatest" ever to work in their particular field, but in Gene Wolfe's case that title might be an understatement. Depending on whom you ask, Wolfe was more than just one of the greats. He was a luminary, a deeply imaginative and original storyteller who, when he passed away in April at the age of 87, left behind one of the most powerful bodies of work of any writer of his generation in any genre. Wolfe, best known for his Book of the New Sun series, wrote more than two dozen novels and dozens of short stories, and over the decades his work earned him two Nebula Awards, six Locus Awards, a Campbell Award, and four World Fantasy Awards, among many other honors. Even among the other greats of his genre, Wolfe was a titan.
It takes a certain kind of filmmaking sensibility to make a cult classic, and usually if you manage to join those ranks, you only do it one time. Then there are filmmakers like Larry Cohen, who left behind a career packed with cult classics when he passed away in April at the age of 77. In a career that spanned more than four decades in both film and television, Cohen wrote everything from courtroom dramas to crime thrillers, but he's perhaps best known for the low-budget horror films he began crafting in the 1970s, including It's Alive, God Told Me To, Q: The Winged Serpent, and The Stuff. Though he wasn't always working with the same resources as his peers, Cohen managed to fill his career with smart, darkly funny cult films that were many things, but never, ever boring. In the process, he became one of the most influential filmmakers of his generation.
In the world of character actors, there are the ones you love to see, and then there are the ones you love to see so much that you always make sure to remember their name so you can tell other people how much you love them. Rip Torn, one of the most recognizable and commanding actors of his generation, fit easily in the latter category. Torn passed away in July at the age of 88, and left behind an immense and diverse filmography that included genre work like Men in Black, Disney's Hercules, Beastmaster, and more. His presence was gigantic, his gravitas seemingly endless, and his knack for balancing comedy and drama was often unmatched by his scene partners. We'll miss seeing him pop up in film after film, even the ones he was only in for a matter of minutes.
While it's not necessarily rare for an actor to be identified with a single role in an indelible franchise, it is rare for an actor to be as beloved as Rene Auberjonois was for a single role. Auberjonois, who passed away Dec. 8 at the age of 79, enjoyed a prolific career as a character actor spanning decades on both the stage and the big and small screens. But he is most remembered, and most loved, for his work as Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. As the gruff, shapeshifting constable of the title space station, Auberjonois was able to showcase his versatility as an actor within the confines of a single role. Odo, however, is by no means his only major work — he'll also be remembered for his performances in M*A*S*H, Benson, King Kong, The Little Mermaid, and much more.
More farewells in 2019
As we looked back on the year and those we lost, we found a massive list of genre stars ranging from beloved character actors to legends in their fields to rising stars gone too soon — far too many to include in a single article. Here are more beloved genre figures we lost in 2019, along with links to our tributes to them.
Peter Fonda, legendary star of Easy Rider and Escape from L.A. ... Sid Haig, horror legend and star of House of 1000 Corpses ... Robert Evans, titanic studio executive and producer of Rosemary's Baby ... Janet Asimov, sci-fi author and wife of Isaac Asimov ... Robert Forster, star of Twin Peaks: The Return and El Camino: A Break Bad Movie ... Peggy Lipton, star of The Mod Squad and Twin Peaks ... Julie Adams, star of The Creature From the Black Lagoon ... Russi Taylor, the longtime voice of Minnie Mouse ... Kazuo Koike, co-creator of iconic manga Lone Wolf and Cub ... Tim Conway, beloved TV comedian and voice of Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob SquarePants ... Dick Miller, character actor who starred in Gremlins and Chopping Mall ... Gahan Wilson, beloved and influential cartoonist ... Beverley Owen, star of The Munsters ... Katherine Helmond, character actress who co-starred in Brazil ... Albert Finney, legendary actor who starred in Big Fish ... Carol Channing, stage and screen star ... Diahann Carroll, legendary actress and singer who appeared in one of the strangest segments of The Star Wars Holiday Special ... Cameron Boyce, star of Disney's Descendants series ... and Aron Eisenberg, who played Nog on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.