They say celebrity deaths come in threes. I don’t know if that’s true, but last Monday we lost Star Trek writer D.C. FONTANA, and last Thursday saw the passing of “Charlie X” guest star ROBERT WALKER, JR. And now, we have lost Deep Space Nine‘s Constable Odo himself, renown actor RENÉ AUBERJONOIS.
As far as I am concerned, this is actually the fourth untimely Star Trek death, as it hasn’t even been three full months yet since DS9‘s “Nog,” ARON EISENBERG, passed away much too young. René wasn’t exactly “young,” but at the age of 79, we fans certainly weren’t expecting this. But René had advanced lung cancer, and he died earlier today at his home in Los Angeles.
I never knew René Auberjonois as anything other than a fan of his work…and not just his Star Trek role as Odo (and a couple of other characters). While I was not old enough to have seen his first-ever credited role in a major motion picture in the theater (the original Father John Mulcahy in the movie version of MASH), I did see it years later on television.
But for me, René Auberjonois would always be the snooty, arrogant, acerbic Clayton Runnymede Endicott III, a staffer in the governor’s mansion on the 70s television sitcom Benson. Even a few minutes ago when my wife asked me whom I was writing a eulogy for this time—and I said, “René Auberjonois…”—she replied, “Awwwww no…Clayton Endicott.” Nope, she’s not much of a Trekkie, but even 40 years later, she remembers the name of René’s character in this TV series that neither Wendy nor I have seen in decades.
But that’s what René was more than anything else: memorable. I recall seeing René on stage at a convention back in the 1990s, and I remember him explaining to the to entire audience how to pronounce his last name…almost word for word, this is what he said…
It’s a French/Swiss name, and it’s actually not as hard to pronounce as it looks. The first syllable is “Oh”…like you’re surprised. Then it’s “bear”…just like the animal. Then “john”…just like the common male name. And finally, “wah,” which is the sound a crying baby makes…just with an “ah” sound like you’re going to the doctor and he’s sticking a tongue depressor in your mouth.
Let’s all say it together: OH. BEAR. JOHN. WAH. Oh-bear-john-wah. Auberjonois.
Yep. I can still picture René leading the entire audience in a good-natured chant of his last name…just like it was yesterday. And obviously, I remember his performances as Odo with reverence and sincere appreciation. He took a gelatinous, undefined character—an authoritarian law-enforcement officer who could have easily been played as a one-note “cold-fish/stick-in-the-mud” character, easily forgotten—and turned him into a fan favorite member of the Deep Space Nine station crew.
I adored seeing Odo on camera, especially the way he played off against Quark but later in his growing romance with Major Kira. That relationship could have become something so awkward—like the last season TNG “romance” between Worf and Troi or the even more last-second Voyager “romance” between Chakotay and Seven-of-Nine (which still leaves me scratching my head). Instead, thanks to stellar performances by both René and Nana Visitor as Kira, I felt connected to that relationship, rooted for it, cheered when it became official, and cried when it had to end.
I could go on and on about René’s many, many, many, many, MANY memorable roles—from being a regular on Boston Legal (with another Star Trek alumnus named Shatner) to an endless parade of television guest starring roles (The Good Wife, Masters of Sex, Criminal Minds, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Madame Secretary to name a few) and an even greater number of animated character voice-overs. In fact, when my son Jayden was younger and I used to watch cartoons with him, I would so often hear that familiar voice and think, “Oh, there’s René Oh-bear-john-wah.” But instead of listing his many, many roles, I’ll just link to René’s wikipedia entry…which includes his fascinating family tree which traces all the way back to Napoleon’s youngest sister (and some other distinguished European nobility…René’s mother was actually a princess and his father nominated for the Pulitzer prize!).
I wish I could find a way to somehow tie this blog to René’s work with Star Trek fan films, but alas, I can’t. He never appeared in any. From his IMDb page, my guess is that the man was just too darn busy to even consider it!
Nevertheless, I didn’t want to let the passing of this amazing actor, a beloved part of the Star Trek family, go by unacknowledged here on Fan Film Factor. I realize that no one lives forever, and some members of the Trek family are definitely getting on in years (aren’t we all?). But let’s always take time to remember these wonderful people and appreciate the amazing gift they have bequeathed to all of us fans who love them and the characters they’ve created for us.