As the end of 2018 approaches, it’s time to look back and bid a fond farewell to the actors, artists, authors, and other real people who’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. All of these folks have one thing in common: They inspired us, whether it was with one specific performance on a favorite sci-fi TV show, or a career that changed genre entertainment forever.
The late-night radio host launched Coast to Coast AM 14 years before The X-Files helped nudge many of his talk show’s favored topics—crop circles, cryptozoology, remote viewing, unexplained phenomena, UFO sightings, Area 51, and just about any conspiracy theory you can think of—out of the fringes and into mainstream pop culture. Though Bell retired in the early 2000s, his legacy continues on; the show, a mix of hosted interviews (with a variety of colorful and often controversial guests) and audience call-ins, still airs seven nights a week.
Why is the famed chef, author, TV personality, and world traveler on this list? Though the Parts Unknown host was best-known for cooking-related books like Kitchen Confidential, he also co-wrote graphic novels in a similar badass-foodie vein, including 2013's Get Jiro!; 2016 follow-up Get Jiro! Blood and Sushi; and this year’s horror anthology Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts.
Reg E. Cathey
Probably best known for his role in HBO’s much-loved The Wire, Reg E. Cathey’s career spanned decades. In the genre world, he had roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Tank Girl, Grimm, Fantastic Four, and most recently Netflix’s Luke Cage. Early on in his career he also played part in the educational series Square One, made by the Children’s Television Workshop. He passed on at only age 59 but he made a definite impact on the acting world. And we’ll never forget that voice.
The veteran actor had a long career, mostly on TV, with roles on The Bob Newhart Show in the 1970s and ALF in the 1980s. But his talent for good-natured goofballery was put to especially good use on iconic fantasy sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, where he played the girl-happy best friend of Larry Hagman’s Captain Tony Nelson. Upon his death, Barbara Eden—Jeannie herself—tweeted a fond tribute, calling him “our favorite zany astronaut” and “a funny, sweet man that kept us all on our toes.”
The world of comics will never be the same without Ditko—his artwork didn’t just influence generations of young minds, but his talent helped create some of the most iconic comics characters of all time. Without him, there would be no Spider-Man, no Doctor Strange, no Question, no Shade the Changing Man. His art created some of the definitive moments of the Silver Age of comics, and his loss was a heartbreaking one for the industry.
Donat’s five-decade acting career was packed with supporting turns on TV shows like Murder, She Wrote and movies like The China Syndrome. But we here at io9 will always remember him as Fox Mulder’s adoptive father, Bill Mulder, a recurring character with his own shadowy government past. He eventually met a tragic end in season two just as he was planning spill all his secrets to his son...though he’d pop back up in flashbacks, photos, and story points for years after.
Few actors can claim to have just one outstandingly memorable role in a cult-beloved film; character veteran Doubleday’s resume contains two, both under the direction of John Carpenter. In 1976's Assault on Precinct 13, he played a member of LA’s ruthless Street Thunder gang, and commits arguably the film’s most gleefully cruel atrocity, shooting an ice-cream vendor and his pint-sized customer (“I wanted vanilla twist!”). Then, in 1981's Escape From New York, he’s an even creepier bad guy, freaking out even Lee Van Cleef’s stone-cold character with his sinister laugh and appearance, and utter lack of interest in negotiating for the life of the President (“You touch me, he dies...”) Just a few moments of screen time each, but both utterly haunting nonetheless.
The legendary and sometimes controversial sci-fi and speculative-fiction author wrote such classics as “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and “A Boy and His Dog.” He was also the man behind one of Star Trek’s most iconic episodes, time-travel tale “The City on the Edge of Forever.”
Spanish creator Ezquerra made a huge impact on the British comic-book industry. The artist was best-known for being the co-creator of Judge Dredd as well as for his work on 2000 AD; he also co-created Strontium Dog and Rat Pack, and worked with writer Garth Ennis on a number of titles.
The classically handsome actor hadn’t been seen onscreen since the early 1980s, when he moved on to other ventures, including serving as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico under President Ronald Reagan. But horror fans will forever remember him as Sam Loomis—down-on-his-luck but determined boyfriend to the doomed Marion Crane in Psycho.
Before Laura Palmer, there was Teresa Banks—the first mysterious “Blue Rose” case that drew the FBI’s attention to the spooky Pacific Northwest. In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, we hear a lot about Teresa; we see her dead and we see her in photos and flashbacks, but we don’t get to know her very well. Still, Gidley—a striking former model who made her movie debut in 1986's Thrashin’—had more than enough mystique to make Teresa fit right into David Lynch’s universe.
You’d be hard-pressed to read two better screenplays than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men, both of which won Oscars for William Goldman. And yet, those are just the tip of the iceberg. He took genre writing to a new level with films like Marathon Man, The Stepford Wives, Misery, and Memoirs of an Invisible Man—not to mention his adaptation of The Princess Bride, which is just as revered, if not more so, than his Oscar-winning work.
A Tony winner and an Oscar nominee, Harris had an eclectic resumé (Nashville, Family Plot, Peggy Sue Got Married), but one of her most enduring roles was playing Jodie Foster’s mother in 1976's Freaky Friday. Or rather, playing Foster’s mother who is somehow trapped in her 14-year-old daughter’s body for most of the movie. It’s still the gold standard by which all body-swap comedies should be judged, and Harris’ performance is a huge part of that.
The physicist had a brain like no other but not many scientific minds reach Hawking’s level of notoriety. That’s thanks in part to his awesome sense of humor and inclusion in countless pop culture projects. He even had a graphic novel under his belt! Hawking’s work and discoveries will continue to provide for vigorous debate for years to come and serve as the jumping off point for future scientific leaps. The universe won’t be the same without him.
He was an award-winning animator known for his work on iconic Nickelodeon shows like Rocko’s Modern Life and Rugrats. However, Hillenburg’s greatest work combined his two biggest loves—animation and marine biology. As the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, Hillenburg single-handedly created a new era in children’s animation, inspiring millions with an adorable talking sponge and his irreverent underwater adventures.
The Oscar-nominated Icelandic film composer accomplished a lot in a relatively short amount of time, providing his signature (yet never repetitive) ambient-classical-electronic sound for multiple Denis Villeneuve films (including Arrival and Blade Runner 2049), as well as films like James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything, Mother! by Darren Aronofsky, Marc Forster’s Christopher Robin, and—perhaps most memorably—Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy, a study in sensory overload made even more powerful by Jóhannsson’s next-level aural mastery.
A versatile “that guy” character actor whose resumé stretched back to the late 1940s, Karen is probably most-recognizable to genre fans for two wonderfully distinctive roles: real-estate sleaze Mr. Teague in Poltergeist (as you’ll recall...he’s guy who moved the gravestones but not the bodies); and The Return of the Living Dead’s jovial medical-supply warehouse worker Frank, who just can’t resist showing his new co-worker the zombie they’ve been keeping in storage for years, after which he then (oops!) accidentally kick-starts the undead apocalypse.
When Superman came out in 1978, the tagline was “You’ll believe a man can fly.” And while that was definitely true, the even bigger takeaway was how we all fell in love with Kidder’s Lois Lane. Her take on the iconic character remains the definitive one, a mix of smart and sassy that gave even the most noble of superheroes a run for his money. Add the Superman films to a robust career that includes Black Christmas, The Amityville Horror, Captain Planet, and Halloween II, and you have one of the most notable actresses of her generation.
This man helped bring Star Wars to life—without him, it might not even exist. A producer on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, Kurtz was a key figure in helping turn a relatively unknown space opera into one of the biggest franchises in history. Not only is he partially responsible for securing the deal with 20th Century Fox to bring Star Wars to the big screen, but he also worked on other iconic fantasy films like Return to Oz and The Dark Crystal.
Ursula K. Le Guin
The pioneering and influential sci-fi and fantasy author, best-known for highly-acclaimed works like The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea series, was one of few women to be named a “Grand Master” by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Throughout her long career, she won multiple Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy awards, and in 2001, she was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. Her iconic works continue to live on in our imaginations and beyond.
Without Lee, the world of popular culture as we know it would be forever changed. During his time at Marvel, Lee triumphed with fantastical heroes like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, and many more of the publisher’s now-iconic characters, telling stories that balanced superhero spectacle with real heart and grounded personal journeys. From his soapbox editorial column at the end of his books, he pushed for progressive issues and championed comics as a tool for social justice. And then, decades after he changed the comics world, he brought countless moments of joy to the movie adaptations of his most beloved characters (and even a few he didn’t help create) in the form of his myriad cameos, a tribute to just how vital Lee was to the superpowered world of pop culture we now live in.
Marshall may be best-known for her role on Laverne and Shirley or directing A League of Their Own, but she got big with Big. The Tom Hanks 1988 hit was pure Marshall, mixing childlike wonder with gently off-color humor in a way the whole family can enjoy. To this day, Big is still required viewing for anyone who wants to speak fluent pop culture, and that’s thanks in large part to Marshall’s talent.
Film producer Melniker, along with Michael Uslan, helped usher the Caped Crusader to the big screen after years on comic pages. Starting with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and on through this year’s Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, he had a hand in countless film and animation projects featuring the Dark Knight. Outside of superheroes, during his earlier years at MGM Melniker also worked on classic like Ben Hur, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Dr. Zhivago. He was 104 years young when he passed.
Pearce was an actress best-known as the villainous Servalan on the British cult classic sci-fi series, Blake’s 7. Though her part was originally designed to be a one-off role, Pearce brought such a natural elegance and ferocity to her performance that she eventually grew into the show’s main villain. She also appeared in Doctor Who’s “The Two Doctors” as Chessane of the Franzine Grig, and appeared in two Hammer horror films: The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile.
You may not recognize Rain’s name, but no sci-fi fan would mistake his voice, forever immortalized as the measured monotone of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL 9000 computer. Rain—who was also an acclaimed Shakespearean actor—oozed icy menace (and yet somehow managed to be oh-so-polite) while delivering now-classic lines like “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
The British director shines brightest in io9's heart for giving us David Bowie in his true alien form in The Man Who Fell to Earth—but he also scared the living hell out of us with the sight of Anjelica Huston peeling back her faux-human scalp in The Witches. There’s also the small matter of scaring the living hell out of us again with a red raincoat in psychological horror classic Don’t Look Now. In those three titles—as well as in his other acclaimed works, such as Walkabout and Performance—his vision and storytelling style made a major impact, no matter the subject matter.
There would be no Living Tribunal or Spider-Woman were it not for the tenacious work of Marie Severin who first broke into the industry by way of Entertainment Comics where she worked as a colorist before the then newly-established comics code forced the publisher to close. While the era of EC comics was coming to a close, Severin’s career was just beginning. She quickly gained recognition for her unparalleled talent in illustrating gorgeous, striking images whose aesthetics were amplified by her keen eye for, and understanding of, color contrast.
Severin was also known for her ability to cannily use striking color palettes in order to infuse panels she felt were too intense with an energy that amplified the harsh subject matter while at the same time depicting it in a way that was more pleasing to the eye. She was a pioneer in the industry and a testament to the fact that women have always been a part of the comics creating community—something more people could stand to remember today.
A charismatic presence who first got into show business as a stunt double for the main character of John Hughes’ 1994 comedy Baby’s Day Out, Troyer will forever be remembered for playing “Mini-Me” opposite Mike Myers’ comically nefarious Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers films.
He was a pitch-perfect Hershel in AMC’s adaptation of The Walking Dead, but Wilson had an incredible resumé that began with 1967's In the Heat of the Night. From there he went on to become an often-utilized character actor with roles on The Twilight Zone, The Exorcist III, The X-Files, and more recently, Netflix’s The OA.
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