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'Scotty' of 'Star Trek' Bids Fans a Fond Farewell

James Doohan, diagnosed as having Alzheimer's, retires from public life.

August 30, 2004|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

For a brief moment, the denizens of this peculiar universe stood united: the valiant Starfleet commanders, the fierce Romulan warriors, the pimply speculators in the action figure market.

They gathered Sunday in a ballroom at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel to say farewell to James Doohan, 84, who played Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott on the original "Star Trek" TV series.

With the recent onset of Alzheimer's disease, Doohan, a former regular on the Trekkie convention circuit, decided to make one final appearance for fans before retiring from public life.

The "Star Trek" faithful paid up to $995 to take part in a two-day tribute and convention, "Beam Me Up, Scotty ... One Last Time," which culminated Sunday with the actor, in a wheelchair, flanked by his fellow space travelers, blowing kisses to a standing-room-only crowd.

"He wanted to say goodbye to his fans," said Dave Mendel, of Berryville, Va., who said he spent much of the weekend near Hollywood and Highland dressed in full Klingon battle armor -- including sand-crab forehead and spiked shoulder pads. "How could you not show up for that?"

Mendel, a 6-foot-4 truck driver who also goes by the Klingon name "qarjagh," fit in among his fellow fans, some of whom packed fake phaser guns in homemade utility belts. There were Scotty impersonation contests, Scotty trivia and a panel discussion titled "The Influence of Scotty on Society."

The New York-based Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation set up a booth, passing out information about the degenerative brain disease, and astronaut Neil Armstrong stopped by for an honorary banquet.

Doohan, who also has Parkinson's disease and diabetes, mingled with fans and spoke haltingly at a news conference, but his family members had to elaborate on his bond with "Star Trek" and its loyal followers.

Fans plan to flock Tuesday to Hollywood Boulevard, where Doohan's star will be unveiled on the Walk of Fame.

"We're just very proud to honor Dad with this star," his son, Chris Doohan, said. "A lot of 'Star Trek' fans helped us out with this."

It was, of course, William Shatner's Capt. James T. Kirk who was the star of the first "Star Trek" series, which ran on NBC from 1966 to 1969. But many Trekkies still find Shatner to be irredeemably nguq -- Klingon for "arrogant" -- after he dissed Trek culture in a 1987 "Saturday Night Live" skit.

Fans love Doohan for being so approachable. Some of the hundreds who made the trip for the chance to see him one last time said they paid the admission because over the years, the man they knew as Scotty always took the time to talk to them, sign autographs and chat about alternate universes, obscure plot points and spaceship specs.

"He's probably the nicest man I've had the pleasure of meeting in Hollywood," said Jim Pawlowski, a rebuilder of airplanes from the Ojai Valley.

They were equally fond of his character, the chief engineer of the starship Enterprise, the guy always ready to bail out Kirk and start the engines early.

After all, it was Scotty who fielded that famous request -- "Beam me up" -- which entered the pop lexicon as a geek-chic update on the hippie maxim "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out."

The role came to Doohan after two decades in radio, television and theater. Before fighting mock battles in space, he had been a captain in the Royal Canadian Artillery, losing a finger and injuring his leg and hand as he led troops into battle on D-Day.

Although Doohan, whose ancestry is mostly Irish, became best known for the character whose Scottish brogue was a product of acting rather than lineage, the association never bothered him.

"Many actors get upset when they are typecast, but that didn't concern him, because he was typecast as Scotty," said Chris Doohan. "It's been his bread and butter."

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