Star Trek has been around for more decades than many people have been alive, and despite occasional setbacks, the franchise never truly disappears for long. Gene Roddenberry’s vision of utopia first hit TV screens in 1966, and ever since, it has stayed alive throughout over 700 episodes, 12 movies, a cartoon, reboots, a complex timeline of events, the development of a fictional language you can actually learn to speak, and — perhaps most beloved of all — hundreds of characters, planets, and cultures, spanning across the universe.
As the decades have gone on, though, many of the actors who brought these immortal characters to life have reached the end of their own, all-too-mortal lives, to the great sadness of Trek fans everywhere. Some of these deaths you might have heard of over the years. Others could be a depressing surprise. Either way, may the memory of these talented performers live long, and prosper.
Leonard Nimoy had a rocky relationship with Spock
Despite a humorless, cold, and "logical" demeanor, Spock is the heart of all things Trek, and much of the credit for that goes to Leonard Nimoy. When not acting, Nimoy was also a poet, an artist, a photographer, and a musician. His relationship with the Spock character could be, at times, complicated — of his two autobiographies, the first 1975 book was titled I Am Not Spock, whereas the 1995 follow-up was I Am Spock — he later described himself as feeling a sort of mystical identification with the intellectual, pointy-eared alien, according to the New York Times, once writing that, "In Spock, I finally found the best of both worlds: to be widely accepted in public approval and yet be able to continue to play the insulated alien through the Vulcan character."
To the great sadness of every science fiction fan in the world, including then-U.S. president Barack Obama, Leonard Nimoy passed away in 2015, at the age of 83. His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, attributed his death to end-stage chronic pulmonary disease.
During his twilight years, Nimoy had continued bringing Spock to life, as the elderly "Spock Prime" version of the character in the rebooted Star Trek movies. To honor his legacy, according to Bustle, the 2016 film Star Trek Beyond made a point to write the Vulcan’s death into the script, and to show the impact of his demise upon the younger version of the character, as played by Zachary Quinto.
Persis Khambatta broke barriers
The character of Ilia, the Deltan navigator whose encounter with the V’ger entity proved fatal, did not get the chance to become a recurring character, but she nonetheless played a key role in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. At the time, Ilia’s shaved head was a bold statement — she was the first bald heroine in film history, according to the Independent — and the daring actress who brought her to life was Persis Khambatta, an international model from Mumbai (formerly Bombay), whom in 1965 had been awarded the title of Miss India, as reported by the New York Times.
Khambatta entered the acting world through an array of Hindi-language films before making her Hollywood debut in the 1975 flick The Wilby Conspiracy, co-starring Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine, and playing Ilia in Star Trek proved to be her breakout performance, eventually leading to her becoming the first ever Indian performer to present an award at the Oscars. However, when she was offered a role in the next James Bond movie, she rejected it, out of a vow to her mother that she would return home.
Throughout her life and career, Khambatta remained a private individual who did not seek out the spotlight. Sadly, in 1998, she suffered a fatal heart attack, taking her life at the young age of 49.
Anton Yelchin was taken too soon
In Star Trek history, few deaths have been as tragic — or as horribly unnecessary — as the accidental loss of Anton Yelchin, who portrayed the young genius Pavel Chekov in the post-reboot Trek films. The Russian-born actor, known for the boyish charm and quick wit shown in films like Odd Thomas and Charlie Bartlett, seemed destined for a long career ahead, as described by the Guardian. Sadly, it all ended in 2016, when a freak car accident ended his life at the terribly young age of 27.
The circumstances, as explained by the Los Angeles Times, involved Yelchin’s 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee bizarrely shifting backwards down his driveway, without warning. Yelchin was out of the car, and the vehicle trapped his body between his mailbox and security fence, leaving him pinned, crushed, and suffocating, until he died. The ensuring legal battle between Fiat Chrysler, the makers of Jeep vehicles, and Yelchin’s parents Victor and Irina, went on for years: the family maintained that the SUV’s gear shift mechanism (which had, as it happens, caused dozens of other weird accidents) was the cause of the young actor’s death. These two parties reached a settlement in 2018.
Aron Eisenberg dealt with serious health problems
The Ferengi were some of the funniest characters ever featured on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, known for being the greediest capitalists in a galaxy that had mostly abandoned the concept of money. The character of young Nog, though, as played by Aron Eisenberg, proved — in Star Trek’s patently inspirational fashion — that you can never paint all people of a certain culture with the same brush. Contrary to his latinum-hungry, manipulative uncle Quark, Nog was a boy who formed a genuine friendship with an Earthling, Jake Sisko, and even went on to become the first Ferengi to join Starfleet.
Sadly, while actor Aron Eisenberg did snag a few other roles over the years, he also suffered through a number of severe health traumas in the decades following his Trek days. Eisenberg endured two separate kidney transplant operations, according to CNN, with the second one occurring in 2015. Tragically, in late 2019, his wife Malíssa Longo shared on Facebook that Eisenberg had passed away at age 50, saying of her late husband, "He was an intelligent, humble, funny, emphatic soul. He sought to live his life with integrity and truth." Later, she revealed that the cause of death was heart failure.
DeForest Kelley could have used McCoy’s help
Kirk was the go-getter, and Spock was the voice of reason, but Leonard H. "Bones" McCoy, doctor of the Enterprise, was the dude who wasn’t afraid to tell it to you straight, whether you liked it or not. Always ready, always effective, always looking out for the little guy, and never one to back down from a fight, many doctors today have credited Bones with having inspired them to first attend medical school.
Amusingly enough, while it’s now impossible to imagine Bones without DeForest Kelley’s sarcastic voice attached, the Los Angeles Times says that Gene Roddenberry initially offered the actor a choice between playing either McCoy or Spock. Hard to imagine, right? In retrospect, Kelley definitely made the right decision. Even after the original series, and after the first wave of movies, Kelley went on to serve as the bridge between the sixties crew and the then-newcomers featured in Star Trek: The Next Generation, as Mental Floss explained.
The last few years of Kelley’s life were plagued by health problems, with his final months spent in a convalescent home in Woodland Hills, California. In 1999, he died at the age of 79, of complications arising from stomach cancer, which People Magazine said he had suffered from for 18 months.
Jon Paul Steuer spent a lot of time in the makeup chair
Alexander Rozhenko, the son of Worf, was a boy who went through a great deal of changes, and multiple actors, as he aged from child to adult. The first actor to portray Alexander in Star Trek: The Next Generation was a boy named Jon Paul Steuer, according to the Independent, who allegedly nabbed the role because he was the only young man capable of sitting still for three hours while all the Klingon makeup and prosthetic pieces were applied. Hey, seriously, can you imagine a kid sitting still that long? Anyhow, though Steuer did take a few more roles over the years, he soon decided that acting wasn’t his thing, and instead became a successful restaurateur and, most prominently, a musician in the band P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S., where he went by the name Jonny Jewels.
Sadly, on January 5th, 2018, Steuer was pronounced dead at the age of 33. The first reports did not reveal the cause, but later that year, People Magazine announced that it had been ruled a suicide, as he’d been found with a gunshot wound to the head.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Barbara March was a fan favorite
One of the most underrated duos in Star Trek history were Lursa and B’Etor, as sci-fi author Mary Fan explains on StarTrek.com, a pair of villains who, while knowingly corrupt to the core, were hard not to root for as they continually tried to break free of the patriarchal norms in Klingon society. B’Etor was played by Gwynyth Walsh, who would go on to play Chief Examiner Nimira in Voyager, while Lursa was brought to life by Barbara March. Both actresses were beloved by fans, and they frequently appeared at conventions.
When March wasn’t wearing Klingon makeup, though, ComicBook.com reports that she was also a deeply talented, multifaceted artist, who alternated between writing, poetry, and the stage. On the stage, she portrayed characters like Lady Macbeth and the Duchess of Malfi with gusto. Behind the scenes, she scripted plays such as The Razing of Charlotte Bronte, and novellas like The Copper People. Sadly, in 2019, March’s husband Alan Scarfe posted on Facebook that the retired Klingon warrior had passed on to the next realm, at the age of 65, after a long battle with cancer.
Ricardo Montalbán fought for representation
While everyone remembers the Klingons and the Borg, the most iconic — and powerful — singular antagonist in all of Star Trek lore is certainly Khan Noonien Singh, a character who first premiered in the original series before his titular comeback in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. While Khan’s story is interesting, and surprisingly sympathetic, the secret ingredient behind the character’s enduring popularity was the masterful acting abilities of Ricardo Montalbán.
Montalbán was, as the Los Angeles Times points out, one of the pioneering Mexican-born actors in Hollywood, who worked hard to overcome the prejudices of his time. When Montalbán achieved his own degree of success, he funneled it into his nonprofit, the Nosotros Foundation, in an effort to create new opportunities in the motion picture business for fellow Latino professionals. He wasn’t afraid to call out executives for only casting him in Brazilian, Cuban, and Argentinian roles, (or someone of a Sikh background, in the case of Star Trek), but never as a Mexican character, pointing out how the industry continued to portray Mexican people in a stereotypical and negative manner.
Between his passionate activism and his talent, Ricardo Montalbán left behind an incredible legacy when he died in his L.A. home in 2009, at the age of 88. Though the cause of death was originally cited as "old age," it was later revealed to be congestive heart failure, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Majel Barrett Roddenberry was an intrinsic part of Star Trek
As Star Trek diehards will tell you, the show’s original pilot episode, "The Cage," was a bit different from the series that eventually came around. For one, the commander of the Enterprise was not James Kirk, but rather, Christopher Pike. Pike’s first officer was a woman named Number One, played by actress Majel Barrett, who was cold, distant, and logical back when Spock was still a smiley, happy-go-lucky dude. However, Number One’s high-ranking position on the Enterprise, as well as her calculated demeanor, chafed with NBC producers, according to Daniel Leonard Bernardi, so the character was kicked off the bridge.
Since then, both Pike and Number One have become fan-favorite characters, courtesy of their revival on Star Trek: Discovery, where the latter is now portrayed by Rebecca Romijn. Back then, though, while Barrett’s Number One days ended quickly, she did become a major part of Trek history: not just as the wife (and eventual widow) of creator Gene Roddenberry, but also as the ship’s nurse, Christine Chapel, according to the Los Angeles Times. Barrett Roddenberry continued playing Chapel in the movies, and later cut loose as Lwaxana Troi on both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Throughout all of this, she also played the familiar voice of the Enterprise computer, throughout various different shows.
Majel Barrett Roddenberry passed away in late 2008, at the age of 76, after a long battle with leukemia.
Brock Peters made his mark
Brock Peters was a legendary actor, most recognized for playing a wrongly accused man in the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. He had many roles over the years, but among Star Trek fans, he is remembered for the two, unrelated parts he brought to life, as explained by the Washington Post: first, he portrayed Admiral Cartwright in two of the Star Trek movies (The Voyage Home and The Undiscovered Country, to be precise), and second, he entered the world of Deep Space Nine as Creole master chef Joseph Sisko, of New Orleans, the father of Avery Brooks’ grizzled Captain Benjamin Sisko. Though Peters’ Deep Space Nine appearances were infrequent, his energy, positivity, and loving dedication to family were a clear influence on his son, a character who has since been ranked by many die hard Trekkers as their favorite Star Trek captain of all-time.
In his old age, Peters came down with pancreatic cancer. It finally took his life in 2005, at the age of 78, and he died in his Los Angeles home.
James Doohan had to beam up eventually
A Scottish engineer, named Scotty, with a thick Scottish accent? Hey, amusing as it, that’s a piece of Star Trek history, and it’s hard to imagine the original series working without James Doohan’s endearing character manning the transporters. Doohan, who actually hailed from British Columbia, continued playing Scotty all the way from the original series, to the cartoon, to Star Trek: The Next Generation, where he befriended the new crew in heartwarming fashion. Doohan’s lovable persona, tireless enthusiasm, and ability to fix any malady the ship experienced — or loyally beam up his crew mates, whenever disaster struck on the planet below — clearly inspired the performances of every Star Trek chief engineer since, from Miles O’Brien to Charles "Trip" Tucker III.
Though Doohan lived a long life, according to the New York Times, his later years were tragically plagued by the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2005, he experienced a bout with pneumonia, and he was finally beamed up for the last time at the age of 85.
Yvonne Craig created an iconic moment
When you think about Yvonne Craig, the first character that comes to mind is probably Batgirl. And why not? Craig’s caped crusader, who featured in the classic sixties Batman show, was one of the most iconic female heroes of the sixties. That said, Craig made guest appearances in quite a number of TV shows at the time, with one of her more memorable roles being in the Star Trek episode "Whom Gods Destroy," where she plays Marta, an imprisoned, green-skinned Orion woman. Marta didn’t last long before she was double-crossed and murdered, but the eternal meme of "Captain Kirk seducing a green-skinned alien" was born with this episode, and while that notion is somewhat inaccurate — Marta actually seduces Kirk, and only for the purpose of stabbing him — it has become such a a common pop culture reference that even the 2009 reboot had to pay tribute to it.
Acting, though, didn’t end up being Craig’s lifelong career path. Before Batgirl and Marta, according to the New York Times, she had been a professional ballet dancer. Post-Batgirl, she took a surprising career turn, and became a real estate broker … though, in the 2010s, she did turn in a few voice acting performances, for kicks. Sadly, this same decade saw her become diagnosed with breast cancer, which went on to metastasize in her liver. After a long, private struggle against the disease, she died in 2015, at the age of 78.
Rene Auberjonois was a standout character
Rene Auberjonois was an actor whom not everyone knew the name of, but everybody loved. From his role as Father Mulcahy in the original film version of M*A*S*H, to TV roles in Benson and Boston Legal, to an unforgettable (albeit, short) performance as the villainous chef in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Auberjonois carved his way into many pop culture phenomenons, as explained by the New York Times.
Perhaps none of his roles, though, were as beloved as Odo, the malleable chief security officer of Deep Space Nine, whom he portrayed for seven wonderful seasons. While Odo’s gruff demeanor and shape-changing powers immediately positioned him as one of the space station’s most offbeat and interesting figures, the more that Deep Space Nine peeled back Odo’s layers, the more endearing he became: lonely, loyal to his friends, in love with Major Kira Nerys, and yet hopelessly connected to the sinister Dominion, Odo was the perfect centerpiece for Auberjonois’ talents. Looking back, when one remembers what made DS9 such a unique Trek series, Odo comes to mind immediately.
Post-Trek, this actor never stopped acting, just recently starring in the 2019 comedy film Raising Buchanan, where he portrayed the 15th U.S. president. Unfortunately, as with so many Star Trek stars, his life was finally claimed by cancer — in his case, of the lungs. To the sadness of fans all over the world, Auberjonois was pronounced dead in 2019, at the age of 79.