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Eric: Requiescat in pace, Mr. Doohan

It's not fair to need to write two of these within twelve hours, but then life isn't fair, is it?

James Doohan passed away this morning, from complications from pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease. I hardly need to summarize his career -- if there's someone here who doesn't know from Scotty, I'm wondering how they managed to get the internet working in the first place, and what led them here in particular. And Doohan, for better or worse, had "Scotty" eclipse the rest of his career. When one saw him as the headmaster/commander in Space Academy, it hardly displaced the Chief Engineer from our mindset.

There are a lot of people out there who liked Scotty most of all, of the Star Trek cast. I was one of them. I think to a degree it's because Scotty wasn't overused -- he rarely had an episode devoted to him. The later Star Trek shows very specifically made themselves out as ensemble casts, which meant every season had to have a requisite number of Geordi episodes, Troi episodes, Data episodes and the like. I sometimes think a Star Trek series that was strongly about the ship's Captain and one or two crewmembers, with the rest of the cast clearly simply supporting characters, might make for a stronger show than, say, Voyager.

And here we are, writing a commemorative of James Doohan, and I've drifted onto a tangent about Star Trek: Voyager. This was Doohan's legacy and curse, in life. He is so identified with the show that one cannot separate the subject of him from it.

And yet, he found peace with that. According to CNN's obituary, Doohan complained to his dentist about his being typecast, all the way back in 1973. The dentist replied "Jimmy, you're going to be Scotty long after you're dead. If I were you, I'd go with the flow."

"I took his advice," said Doohan, "and since then everything's been just lovely."

And he did. Guesting on the (not nearly good enough) Knight Rider reunion movie Knight Rider 2000, Doohan played himself. After being stunned with a sonic cannon, Doohan reverted to Scotty, incoherently babbling lines from the show in his trademark burr. On more and more shows, Doohan played cameos in that vein.

And yet, even as he embraced Scotty, he was the cast member of the original Star Trek most willing to stand up to William Shatner's ego. Many of the supporting cast members had grievances with Shatner -- recounted most tellingly, ironically enough, in Shatner's co-written book Star Trek Memories. And, when he had started conducting interviews with the cast, several admitted that they had decided not to cooperate with him at all. But every one of them relented -- telling him all the ways they were annoyed with him, but still willing to give in one last time. Takei, Nichols, Koenig... they all gave in.

Except James Doohan. And when Shatner publicized Star Trek Memories, he recounted that story time and again. I remember Arsenio Hall calling on "Scotty" to bury the hatchet.

But he never did. He stuck to his guns. He loved Star Trek and his fans, but thought William Shatner was arrogant and insecure, and he never changed his tune.

That's chutzpah. But Doohan always had that in spades.

He came to Boston University a number of times while I was there. My dear friend Robin was a part of the club that brought it in, and she was privileged to spend time with him on more than one occasion. As long as I've known her she's retold those stories again and again. Doohan was extremely nice, and gracious, and funny, and felt privileged to have dedicated fans.

I'm certain that somewhere, Robin's crying. I kind of want to too, though I never got to meet the man. It seems somehow unfair to me, though, that in a world where Shatner's getting Emmy nominations for a new series, James Doohan can die.

But like the dentist said... Scotty won't ever die. And I like to think of the last two times we saw Scotty. One was on the U.S.S. Enterprise-B, where Scott has (erroneously, admittedly) just seen Kirk die.

The other... is a Scott who is older, but still hale and healthy, being rescued from a transporter by the crew of the Enterprise-D, and who at the end is getting ready to fly out into a new universe, his zest for life reinvigorated. And that's the last we'll see of Mister Scott. He will forever be out there, tinkering with engines and tipping back ethanol and slyly convincing all those around him that he is a miracle worker.

And so long as that's true, he'll carry a little James Doohan with him too.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at July 20, 2005 12:36 PM


Comment from: S. Ferrari posted at July 20, 2005 1:44 PM

I think this is as nice a memoriam as can be written for someone. Well said Eric.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 20, 2005 2:05 PM

Welshy? Nooooo!

In all seriousness, I give Doohan full credit for realizing that there are worse things in the world than being fondly remembered for a good character performed well. And I hope, in his own way, he found his peace with Shatner.

Comment from: Tangent posted at July 20, 2005 2:22 PM

He will be missed. :(

Comment from: The Gneech posted at July 20, 2005 3:35 PM

FWIW, Mr. Shatner's latest album was titled "Has Been." I think there's a bit more humility there than people give him credit for. :)

-The Gneech

Comment from: Wednesday posted at July 20, 2005 3:40 PM

I disagree. I think Shatner's got a very good PR person who's realized that exploiting the post-Get A Life image is much more effective than fighting against it.

Mind, it's entertaining as hell. And it does result in lovely things like that one Priceline ad with Nimoy in the hotel room.

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 21, 2005 1:30 AM

I think Shatner is well aware of the state of his musical career. He's been called upon to parody it enough.

I've heard that Doohan and Shatner made peace on the set of Generations.

Comment from: Jet Piston posted at July 21, 2005 9:45 AM

Of all the news reports and articles I've read since Doohan's death, this is the only one that made me feel something.

Thank you.

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