Jerry Doyle , best known for playing Security Chief Michael Garibaldi on Babylon 5, died last Tuesday. He is the last in a too long list of Babylon 5 actors who have died before their time, some of them quite young.
I haven’t watched Babylon 5 in many years, so I don’t know how it holds up after so much time, but it quickly became a very important and significant part of my youth. Babylon 5 run from 1994 to 1998, but I first knew of its existence in July 2001, when (I think) it was first showed in Spain, on the Catalan TV channel Canal 33. I was twelve years old, I was on summer vacation, and I already had a passion for Sci-Fi shows, so I quickly fell in love with it. I’ll admit, however, that my first reaction to it had been one of laughter.
I remember that when I saw that first episode for the first time I thought the show was a parody of some kind. I mean, those spaceships that looked like X-wings from Star Wars, the somewhat obvious low-budget quality, and those extraterrestrial hairstyles! That could not be serious. But then I kept watching, listened to the dialogues, and began to understand the plot (it didn’t look at all like some kind of a joke.) Nope, it was not a parody, it was something fascinating. To be sure, I watched the second episode, and then the third, the fourth… And then I watched them all, from first to last.
Not only that, I developed a profound hatred towards a program called Temps de Neu (about snow parks and that sort of stuff) and the occasional basketball match that dared to interrupt or replace my Babylon 5 just because some manager thought those were more important than a space opera TV show. “Why don’t they take this more seriously?” I usually asked myself, “don’t they see this is more important than THAT irrelevant shit?” And I still think so, by the way. Public television has degenerated a lot here, and one of the tipping points was when they stopped importing sci-fi (StarGate, Farscape, Babylon 5, etc), fantasy, and tv shows of all kind. Now it’s only local stuff and political pundits 24/7.
Anyway, even though this is a personal post, I’m getting sidetracked. This is about remembering all those actors that left us too soon:
-Richard Biggs (1960-2004)
-Michael O’Hare (1952-2012)
-Jeff Conaway (1950-2011)
-Andreas Katsulas (1946-2006)
-Jerry Doyle (1956-2016)
When it came to politics, Jerry Doyle and I disagreed on, well, pretty much everything. Politically, Jerry was just to the right of Attila the Hun. There is a line in Babylon 5 where his character, Michael Garibaldi, suggests that the way to deal with crime is to go from electric chairs to electric bleachers. That line is quintessential Jerry Doyle. I say this with confidence because I overheard him saying it at lunch then stole it for the show.
Despite our differences, when Jerry ran for congress as a Republican not long after Babylon 5 ended, I donated to his campaign. Not because I agreed with him, but because I respected him; because there was one area in which we agreed: the vital intersection between the arts of acting and storytelling. In that respect, Jerry was a consummate professional. Regardless of whatever was going on in his life, whether it was marital issues, a broken arm, forced couch-surfing with Bruce and Andreas or other problems, he never once pulled a prima donna on us; he showed up every day on time, knew his lines, and insisted that the guest cast live up to the standards of the main cast, to the point of roughing up one guest star who showed up not knowing his lines. Trust me when I say that after Jerry got done with him, every day he showed up, he knew his lines. And then some.
He was funny, and dangerous, and loyal, and a prankster, and a pain in the ass; he was gentle and cynical and hardened and insightful and sometimes as dense as a picket fence…and his passing is a profound loss to everyone who knew him, especially those of us who fought beside him in the trenches of Babylon 5. It is another loss in a string of losses that I cannot understand. 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 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.
Because this isn’t fair.
And Jerry Doyle would be the first person to tell you that. Right before he put a fist in your face. Which is what I imagine he’s doing right now, on the other side of the veil.
J. Michael Straczynski