Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Babylon 5 Curse --Updated 6/21/17: Another Death

NOTE: An update is at the bottom

As a child of the 90s, I was blessed to experience some of the most ambitious genre fiction in my formative years. I missed Twin Peaks during its initial run, but had caught up with it by the mid-1990s. I was with The X-Files at the beginning, watching the pilot on September 10, 1993. And of course there was also Millennium (which I've written at length before here) and some of those could-have-been classics like Nowhere Man and  The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

But a particular favorite of mine was Babylon 5. At the time it was one of the most ambitious narratives ever attempted on a sci-fi TV series (or really any TV series), featuring the early use of a story arc. All five seasons were plotted out ahead of time by creator J. Michael Straczynski (though the story lines of the fourth and fifth seasons were later altered when there were concerns over cancellation) so that the series would flow like a novel. Even seeming stand-alone episodes would feature minor plot points (some times headlines glanced on a newspaper or TV new reports playing in the background of scenes) that would hold major implications for future plot developments.

J. Michael Straczynski
Nowadays we take story and myth arcs for granted, but at the time there was really nothing else that quite had the scope of B5. The X-Files was close, but featured ample monster-of-the-week episodes, while the myth arc after the Syndicate was suddenly killed off never quite recovered.

B5, like The X-Files, is also loaded with mythological and esoteric allusions along with rich symbolism. I've toyed with writing an extended examination of such things for several years now but have yet to feel like I could do it justice. This feeling was only reinforced of late as I began re-watching the series several weeks ago.

Thus I was quite saddened, upon finishing up two season three episodes in the wake of dinner, to find that Jerry Doyle had passed away on July 27th. Doyle, 60, had recently found new life as a conservative radio talk show host (he had also ran as a Republican for the US House of Representatives in California after leaving the show several years earlier) but he is till most widely remembered (like much of the rest of the cast) for his turn on B5. In the show he had played the cynical security chief Michael Garibaldi, a character said to be the descendant of the legendary Italian statesman and Freemason Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Giuseppe Garibaldi
Babylon 5 had a rather expansive cast, featuring 17 regular characters during its five year run. Curiously, five of them have already died, and all at fairly young ages. Sixty especially seems to be an unlucky age for B5 alumni. Michael O'Hare, who played Command Jeffrey Sinclair, the first military governor of Babylon 5, also died at sixty in 2012. This researcher has long suspected that Commander Sinclair's last name was inspired by the famed Sinclair Clan of Scotland. This would be in keeping with the Masonic theme the Garibaldi choice hints at. Consider:
"Central to many recent theories about secret societies, the Sinclairs are a Scottish aristocratic family of Norman extraction --their name was originally St. Clair --with a historic connection to Scottish stonemasonry... it was well enough established in tradition in the early seventeenth century that one branch of the Sinclair family was able to gain the backing of Scottish stonemasons' lodges in two attempts to re-establish their rights over the craft. The Sinclairs were also patrons of the masterpieces of Scottish medieval architecture, the famous Rosslyn Chapel...
"The hereditary rights of the Sinclairs over Scottish masons lapsed with the transformation of Scottish stonemasons' lodges into modern Freemasonry in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In 1736, at the establishment of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Willaim Sinclair of Roslin formally relinquished all rights over Masonry. In return, the members of Grand Lodge made him Scotland's first elected Grand Master for a term of one year..."
(The Element Encylopedia of Secret Societies and Hidden History, John Michael Greer, pgs. 560-561) 
was Sinclair supposed to have had famed distant relatives as Garibaldi did?
The final of the B5 actors to have passed away at the age of 60 is Jeff Conaway. Conaway was also known for work on Taxi and his turn in the film adaptation of Grease. He died of a case of pneumonia that was exasperated by years of drug abuse. On B5 he had played security officer Zack Allan. He began as a reoccurring character in season two and was upgraded to a regular cast member for the third season. He remained as such until the show's end in 1998, his character eventually becoming chief of security.

Jeff Conaway as Zack Allan
Another B5 regular nearly died at 60 as well. Andreas Katsuls, who played the Narn ambassador G'Kar, passed away at the age of 59 in February of 2006. Like Conaway, he had suffered from an addition, though in Katsulas case it was smoking. He ultimately succumbed to lung cancer. He was the second of the regular cast members to die.

Andreas Katsulas
The first was Richard Biggs, who played Dr. Stephen Franklin. Biggs passed away in May 2004 at the age of 44. Thus, he is the only of five deceased regulars not near the 60 mark to pass on. The last name of his character, Franklin, could be seen as an allusion to yet another famed Freemason, namely the American statesman Benjamin Franklin. As far as I can tell, these are the only regular characters with names potentially alluding to Freemasonry, though there are many others loaded with historic and metaphysical significance.

Richard Biggs
Certainly it would seem the age of 60 and character with last names potentially inspired by Freemasons have proved to be a lethal combination for B5 alumni. This is quite a morbid synchronicity.

UPDATED 6/21/17

As a reader kindly pointed out to me in the comments section, another regular B5 cast member has died: Stephen Furst, who passed away on June 16, 2017 from complications related to diabetes. The New York Times reports:
"He first learned of his diabetes when he was 17 — complications of the disease had killed his father — but did not face the condition directly until a foot infection in the mid-1990s led doctors to tell him that he might need to have his leg amputated.
" 'Like most severely overweight people, I had to hit a rock-hard bottom before I’d take responsibility for the consequences of neglecting my own health,' he said in an interview with USA Today several years later. The wake-up call led him to a significant weight loss. He began to take a leading role in educating others about the disease."
Furst nearly lost the foot while filming Babylon 5. Afterwards he went through a dramatic weight loss that was evident on the show.

On B5 he played Vir Cotto, the long-suffering aid of some-times-psychotic Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik). The Centauri are a bit of a cross between the Roman and British Empires and are every bit as bloodthirsty and genocidal as either was during their prime. Vir was quite an exception, however, being one of the only Centauri depicted in the show who was truly aware of the significant failings of his civilization.

Furst as Vir
Vir would eventually serve, briefly, as the Centauri Ambassador to Minbar and eventually succeed Londo as the Centauri Ambassador to Babylon 5 after Londo became the Centauri Emperor. Vir himself would later don the purple and seemingly lead the Centauri Empire to a period of restoration after Londo's disastrous reign.

Furst is now the sixth B5 regular cast member to die. There were eighteen total regular cast members during the show's four year run, meaning a third of the cast is now deceased. Five of the six total cast members have died around the age of 60 --Andreas Katsulas was was 59 while Michael O'Hare, Jeff Conaway and Jerry Doyle were all 60. Furst was 63.

When one considers how many Twin Peaks regulars were still around to film The Return (though a fair number of them have since departed after filming their scenes for The Return...) or that over half of the original Star Trek cast is still around, this is rather striking.

As was indicated above, Babylon 5 dealt with some very heavy, esoteric themes. As Chris Knowles has been exploring in his brilliant series roughly based around the death of Chris Cornell, these kinds of "psychodramas" can have heavy costs for those who perform them. The B5 cast may now be paying such a cost.


  1. It is a great show! Weird that so many people died. Star Trek the Original Series has only had 3 of 7 main characters die, and they started almost 30 years before Babylon 5. :(

    1. are wrong...Nimoy(Spock),Kelly(McCoy),Dohan(Scotty)..there was also Barrett (Chapel),Whitney(Yeoman Rand),Lenard(SARAK, Romulan commander),Hunter (Captain Pike),Carmel (harry Mudd),Craig(Marta..better known for being batgirl off Adam West camp Batman)Khambatta(Lt Illia, Star trek Motion Picture) and not forgetting Montalblan allso called KHAN, there are many others i counted 30, BUT 1 was ALLSO in B5 but not listed...
      Jeff Corey, Played Plasius in Star Trek, BUT was the Shadows spokes man who tried to convince Sheriden on Zarhadum, several might only be known for playing in many costumes as creatures, others just for their voices..several were known for being a 1 time BUT unforgetable performance..

    2. Sorry to burst your bubble, but only the first 3 you named could be considered main characters. Nurse Chapel and Yeoman Rand were secondary characters, and the rest were recurring characters at best. The article and Hunter's post were both clearly referring to just the main cast (which was unusually large in B5's case, but still doesn't quite justify the number of deaths).

  2. Stephen Furst just died the other day June 2017 at age 63.

  3. I did a search of their ages at death and causes. The average age of death was 56 and the median age 60. The average male life expectancy is 76 in the US. A terrible tragedy.

    Stephen Furst, (Vir Cotto) age at death - 62 - Diabetes
    Robin Sachs. (Na'Tok, War leader) Age 61 - Heart Attack
    Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar) Age 59 - Lung Cancer
    Richard Biggs (Dr. Stephen Franklin Age 44 - Heart attack
    Michael O’Hare (Jeffrey Sinclair – Valen) Age 60 - Heart Attack
    Jeff Conaway (Zach) Age 60 - Accidental overdose opiates
    Tim Choate (Zathras) Age 49 Motorcycle accident

    1. Richard Biggs did not die of a heart attack. He died from an aortic aneurysm. They are different.

  4. Correction to my posting Furst was 63 old at time of his death.

  5. Perfect age to begin again somewhere else.

  6. I always felt Londo was very Russian. We Brits really don't do gluttony and alcohol with that kind of style and exuberance.

    1. I've eaten British food and I can see why. Your beer is quite good though.

  7. The Centauri are Habsburgs/Holy Roman Empire.

  8. Michael o'hare's character hinted in one episode that a the sinckair's had been fighter pilots all the way back to the battle of britain, as a matter of fact there were 2 sinclair's in the battle of britain a flying officer g.l. sinclair & a pilot officer j. Sinclair