Sometimes, things happen that make you stop and think, usually when you least expect them. So it proved for me with the untimely death last week of Jerry Doyle, best known on this side of the pond for playing security chief Michael Garibaldi in the 1990s sci-fi series Babylon 5.
Doyle is the fifth member of the show’s regular cast to pass away since it came to an end in 1998, after Richard Biggs, Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conaway and Michael O’Hare – but more spookily, the fourth in succession to die at, or in Katsulas’ case near, the age of 60.
I have long been a fan of the show, and have always found series creator J. Michael Straczynski’s reflections on the show and its wider themes in the online Lurker’s Guide to be worthwhile reading. I found myself recalling a story related by Straczynski there after I learned of Doyle’s passing, which I reproduce below:
“Oddly enough, Jerry’s broken arm tied *beautifully* into something that had happened in the course of the episode we were filming [“Severed Dreams” in season 3], so all it took was a line or two to sell it.
“The funny thing is…in the very next episode after the incident, there was a line in the script I’d written *weeks* earlier, and it freaked everybody out…when Garibaldi asks someone to do something, and the person responds, ‘What, you’ve got a broken arm or something?’ At first some people thought I’d put it in there to pink Jerry, but it’d been there the whole time.
“Similarly, in the Claudia incident [Claudia Christian broke her foot during filming of the season 2 episode “The Geometry of Shadows”], there was a line (cut for time) where Sheridan says talking to the Drazi is like trying to talk to your right foot…and Ivanova replies ‘I’ll have you know I have a sublime relationship with my right foot.’ Yep, the next day…that’s the foot she broke.
“I have been asked, expressly, not to make any further mention of actors’ body parts in scripts….”
So why did I find myself recalling this specific story?
There is a scene in an episode early in season 4 – “Falling Toward Apotheosis” I think – where Sheridan, having survived his journey to the planet Z’ha’dum which we had hitherto been told would kill him, is given twenty years to live. After which, he is told, he will “simply…stop.”
Sheridan replies with characteristic optimism that he will be “in his early sixties” by then.
It is, of course, pure coincidence that all four actors should die at such similar ages – and it should also be noted that Bruce Boxleitner, who played Sheridan, remains alive and well at 66. But as coincidences go it is a weird one nevertheless, and I cannot help wondering if J. Michael Straczynski recalled the aforementioned events himself as he composed his eulogy to Jerry Doyle.