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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Mr. Garibaldi (1956-2016)

“Of the main cast, we have lost Richard Biggs, Michael O’Hare, Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conaway, and now Jerry Doyle, and I’m goddamned tired of it.”

So wrote Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski on Thursday last week, the day after Jerry Doyle was found dead in his Las Vegas home. JMS continued, “So dear sweet universe, if you are paying attention in the vastness of interstellar space, take a moment from plotting the trajectory of comets and designing new DNA in farflung cosmos, and spare a thought for those who you have plucked so untimely from our ranks… and knock it off for a while.”

It is sobering to realize how many of the principal actors of one of the all-time great science fiction TV series have passed on prematurely. B5’s original run ended 18 years ago. Eighteen years after Star Trek finished its original run, the Next Generation series was warping onto our TV screens while the original cast (still intact) had completed four motion pictures and would go on to make two more. It’s just not fair.

Stories have circulated recently that there are discussions about a Babylon 5 reboot (love that word). Die-hard fans are disappointed that the original story would not be continued with the same actors, but studio muckymucks, who know better about these sorts of things, say that would make it harder to bring in a new audience. It’s all moot anyway. You could sort of see the original troupe carrying on with Dr. Franklin (Biggs) being written out. The absence of Ambassador G’Kar (Katsulas) would be a huge gap, but maybe that could be managed. But the cumulative loss of all these actors—especially Jerry Doyle—really makes a long-term comeback about as logical at this point as a Beatles reunion.

Doyle’s passing is a tough one to take. In some ways he was the heart of the Babylon 5 narrative. As chief of station security Michael Garibaldi, he was an ordinary working guy with personal problems. An earth man working in an instellar space station full of beings from all over the universe, he was our point-of-view character. He was also one of three B5 actors whose hand I once shook. (The other two were Andrea Thompson, who married and divorced Doyle in the course of the show’s run, and Michael O’Hare, who died in 2012.) He was at a B5 fan event I attended at the Royal Dublin Society in the mid-1990s. He was funny and charming a not million miles away from the wise-cracking character he played on TV. He jokingly griped about being mistaken for Bruce Willis at Dublin Airport. There was definitely a resemblance physically and temperamentally. As it happens, Doyle’s first screen credit was on Willis’s TV detective show Moonlighting. He had other guest spots on shows like Homefront, Renegade, Sliders, Beverly Hills, 90210, JAG and NYPD Blue. He also did voice work on The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest and (in the title role) Captain Simian & the Space Monkeys. But mostly his acting career was Babylon 5. He was in the pilot TV movie “The Gathering,” and he was there for all five seasons right up to the very last episode, as well as two spin-off TV movies. We all watched his hair get sparser and sparser in real time.

Doyle came to acting relatively late. Born in Brooklyn, the adopted son of a cop, he worked as a corporate pilot before becoming stock broker for ten years. At the RDS gathering he described how he handled questions about his time with Drexel Burnham Lambert, the banking firm driven into the ground by junk bond king Michael Milken. The conversation would go something like this. “So, what did you do at Drexel Burnham?” “I used to buy companies like yours and fire guys like you.”

A couple of years after Babylon 5 ended, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican from a district in southern California. It is a testament to the camaraderie and loyalty of the B5 family that his old boss JMS donated to his campaign even though he did not share Doyle’s political views. “When it came to politics, Jerry Doyle and I disagreed on, well, pretty much everything,” wrote JMS. “Politically, Jerry was just to the right of Attila the Hun.” But Doyle, according to JMS, was a consummate professional when it came to work and acting. The many warm tweets from former B5 cast and crew have attested to the affection in which he was held.

A dozen years ago Doyle began a career as a talk radio host. I tried listening to it a few times, but I just couldn’t get into it. But it was good to hear his voice again.

I suppose it is once again time to sorrowfully get out the DVD with the final B5 episode, “Sleeping in Light.” Sadly, with the passing of time that beautifully written elegiac finale has become more and more fitting as we have had to bid farewell to one old friend after another. As JMS wrote for John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner), “A toast… to absent friends, in memory still bright.”

-S.L., 3 August 2016

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