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Obituaries

James Doohan, 85; Portrayed Chief Engineer Scotty of 'Star Trek' Fame

July 21, 2005|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

James Doohan, the veteran actor best known for his role on "Star Trek" as the Starship Enterprise's chief engineer who responded to the famous command, "Beam me up, Scotty," died Wednesday. He was 85.

Doohan died at his home in Redmond, Wash. Doohan's agent and friend, Steve Stevens Sr., said the cause of death was pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease. Doohan's wife of 28 years, Wende, was at his side.

"Star Trek," first beamed into American living rooms on NBC in 1966, starred William Shatner as James T. Kirk, the captain of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise, and Leonard Nimoy as the pointy-eared Mr. Spock, Kirk's alien first officer.

The show, in which Doohan played Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, ran only three years.

But the series took on a life of its own as a cult favorite that spawned constant reruns, an animated cartoon series, movies and television spinoffs.

For Doohan, the enduring popularity of "Star Trek" meant reprising his Scotty role in seven "Star Trek" movies featuring original cast members.

He also made countless appearances at "Star Trek" conventions, where thousands of the show's fans, known as "Trekkies," gave him and his fellow original cast members heroes' welcomes.

Doohan's portrayal of the Enterprise's affable engineer with a Scottish brogue even led to his being awarded an honorary degree in engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, where half the students polled reportedly said they were inspired by Doohan's character to enter the field.

He later said he never tired of having people approach him and say the line, "Beam me up, Scotty."

In fact, he said, "It's been said to me at 70 miles an hour across four lanes on the freeway. I hear it from just about everybody."

"Jimmy was Scotty," George Takei, who played chief navigator Sulu on "Star Trek," told The Times on Wednesday. "He's really Irish-Canadian, but he's world-renowned as a Scotsman. His claim was he imbibed enough of Scotland libations to be Scottish.

"What I really enjoyed the most was Jimmy's personality. He was a fun-loving guy."

Takei said the joy and resilient quality that Doohan brought to his "Star Trek" character -- "his robust determination to get things done ... even with the clock ticking and the galaxies about to collide, he was able to solve the problem" -- is "what made Scotty such a beloved character."

Walter Koenig, who played Ensign Pavel Chekov on "Star Trek," said Wednesday that Doohan "was a delightful guy."

"He certainly could be irascible, but somehow I think that added to his charm," Koenig told The Times. "He was a person of emotional depth and could love you as well as be irritated with you all at the same time."

That quality, he said, was reflected in Doohan's work on "Star Trek," which made him one of the show's most popular performers with fans.

"They just loved him," Koenig said. "He had that avuncular quality that everybody took to their hearts. What you saw [on screen] is what he was, and that was very honest and very refreshing."

Nimoy, in a statement to The Times, said simply: "He was our miracle man, one of a kind, the real deal."

The Canadian-born Doohan grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, where, as recounted in his 1996 autobiography "Beam Me Up, Scotty," he lived in poverty as the son of an alcoholic.

As a young artillery officer in the Royal Canadian Army during World War II, he led his men ashore on D-Day at Juno Beach.

That night, he received multiple wounds from machine gun fire and lost the middle finger of his right hand.

On a whim after the war, Doohan took acting classes at a Toronto drama school. He soon won a two-year scholarship to the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City, where he studied with legendary drama teacher Sanford Meisner and spent three more years as Meisner's assistant.

By that time, he was well established on live television. He returned to Toronto in 1953 and performed frequently on stage and in countless radio, television and film productions. He later landed guest spots on TV series in the U.S., including "Bonanza," "Peyton Place," "The Virginian," "Gunsmoke," "The Fugitive" and "Bewitched."

Then came Scotty and the Starship Enterprise.

Doohan prided himself on the Scottish accent he used on the show, later boasting that Scotsmen would congratulate him on his pronunciation.

But although the seasoned actor could claim to "do any accent in the world," he later found himself being turned down for many roles with the line, "There's no part for a Scotsman in there."

"It is deadly to be typecast," he told the Boston Herald in 1994.

But there was no getting around the fact that he would forever be linked to the character of Scotty, or what the Herald reporter referred to as "the warp-engine wizard, who could patch the dilithium crystals with safety pins, tape and Celtic homilies while telling Captain Kirk, 'You canna change the laws of physics' before doing just that."

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