Scotty has beamed up. James Doohan, who played the ship’s Engineer on the original STAR TREK television series and in feature films, died today. The 85-year-old actor had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
The Canadian-born Doohan had been a working character actor before being cast in TREK, with rolls on such earlier series as THE OUTER LIMITS. His work on radio had taught him to do dialects; his Scottish accent as the Enterprise engineer was so convincing that it was jarring to hear Doohan speak in his real voice in interviews.
After TREK, Doohan found himself typecast. He made appearances at fan conventions dedicated to the series, and got occasional roles in low-budget sci-fi movies and television shows. Like the rest of the original cast, his career got a second wind when Paramount released STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE in 1979. Although the film itself was criticized for not living up to the best episodes of the series, it was successful enough to relaunch the franchise on the big-screen, with several sequels following.
Of all the original cast, Doohan seems to have been the most outspoken when it came to William Shatner, accusing the star of being a scene-stealer. Doohan praised co-star Leonard Nimoy’s directorial efforts on STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK and STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME. But when Shatner took over the director’s chair for STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER, Doohan complained that Nimoy worked to service all the actors, but Shatner only thought “about himself.”
Although initially distressed at being identified with a single role, Doohan came to appreciate his fame later in life. Before the press screening for STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, he could be seen walking by the line outside the theatre, smiling to fans and critics. And last year, he made his farewell public appearance at a Trek-convention, titled appropriately “Beam Me Up One Last Time.”