Jerry Doyle: The loss of a truly unique actor

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Jerry Doyle, actor and broadcaster, passed away at 60.

One of my favorite actors ever, Jerry Doyle, best known for his role as Michael Garibaldi on Babylon 5, passed away at 60.  For several years, Doyle had been hosting a syndicated radio program, The Jerry Doyle Show, which was mostly political but, on occasion, veered off into entertainment and life.  In one memorable moment, Doyle touched on “the best advice” he ever received from the late Andreas Katsulas, with whom he worked alongside on Babylon 5.  When speaking about a short-lived failing marriage, Doyle said Katsulas told him to “go where you’re appreciated.”

Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Stracynski issued a statement on Doyle’s passing, published on Epic Times, with this beautiful close:

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 Stracynski, creator of Babylon 5

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Doyle, shown here as Security Chief Michael Garibaldi.  The joke among Babylon 5 fans from Season 4 on was the Garibaldi’s hair went “Beyond the Rim.”

JMS is right – this one, more than most, wasn’t fair.  Babylon 5 has a hardcore following, and many of its core cast has passed away already, many before their time.  It began with Richard Biggs (Dr. Stephen Franklin), being felled by a brain aneurysm.  It continued with the passing of Tim Choate (Zathras), then came the sudden passing of Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar) from lung cancer, Jeff Conaway (Zack Allen) from complications from long-term drug addiction, and Michael O’Hare (Jeffrey Sinclair) who long battled depression and mental illness.  Unlike Star Trek, which lost much of its core cast gradually, Babylon 5 lost its cast in spurts, with Doyle’s passing being the latest to rock this series fandom.

What hurts most of all, however, isn’t just the fact that Doyle passed away so young (a mere 60 years old), but the fact that his loss is a massive crater from an ideological standpoint.  It was uncommon for a man of such conservative political ideology to actually succeed at any level in Hollywood, let alone become the prototypical “tough guy” on a science fiction series.  Doyle was something truly special – a actor who, despite his political differences with his director/producer, was able to find common ground with said producer and work well.  According to JMS’ statement, Doyle held guest stars to the same standards as the main cast, and made sure that said integrity was clearly communicated.  To use a hockey parlance, Doyle was the “enforcer” of the Babylon 5 cast, making sure everyone toed the line and holding everyone, including himself, accountable.  JMS admitted to donating to Doyle’s political campaign not out of ideological agreement, but respect; a greater measure of friendship and American idealism is hard to find in this day and age.

As a broadcaster, Doyle sounded the alarm about President Obama’s platforms and policies, but also was unafraid to call out the GOP on their own excesses and refusal to adhere to their own platforms and strategies.  He was a Libertarian at heart, and his portrayal of Garibaldi showed that as the story progressed.  The character dynamic portrayed between Doyle and Star Trek alum Walter Koenig (Alfred Bester), one in which a paranoid Security Chief had to go toe-to-toe with a “Psi Cop” (telepathic equivalent of internal affairs) brought a level of series intrigue rarely found anywhere in the science fiction world.  Doyle’s portrayal of Garibaldi remained consistent throughout the story arc, and fans knew what to expect, even when JMS threw plot twists about him at the audience.  If it involved Garibaldi, it wasn’t a matter of how he would react, but how his reaction would affect everyone around him.  This was what defined Doyle’s outstanding work as that of a predictable, rugged character with a fatal flaw to his own person.

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Doyle’s accurate portrayal of the consequences of alcoholism in Babylon 5 was highly unusual for a science fiction series.

This, however, merely scratched the surface of Doyle’s commitment to storytelling integrity.  In a commentary, it was revealed that when the notion was floated of Garibaldi’s alcoholism returning after a run-in with Bester, Doyle himself insisted that plot point be done right.  The idea would be predicated on Garibaldi discovering he had no way to exact revenge on Bester because of a neural block put in his brain – known in science fiction as an “Asimov.”  Doyle insisted alcohol abuse be shown in all its ugliness in the story, and that the “rock bottom” phase not simply be glossed over, but that it also showed how it affected everyone else.  In “The Ragged Edge,” it was his overindulgence which caused him to pass out and not hear the assault which felled his longtime friend during an intelligence operation.  During “And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder,” Garibaldi was passed out drunk, unable to respond to an urgent message from the Ranger fleet, which led to the start of an interstellar war which eventually devastated the Centauri homeworld.  Finally, in “The Wheel of Fire,” he was forced to face his greatest demons when, upon arriving late and drunk for a briefing, he was placed on suspension and later came face-to-face with himself in the form of Captain Elizabeth Lochley (Tracey Scoggins), who herself admitted to him her own addiction issues as well as that of her late father.  Doyle’s insistence upon treating this illness with the respect it deserved earned the series the respect of the sci-fi universe the world over; it was highly unusual for a future-set series to address real-world problems, as they were often considered “taboo” and “solved” centuries later.  Doyle and JMS were realistic, and that is perhaps his greatest acting achievement; the ability to make real-life issues plausible in the distant future.

We will miss you, Jerry.  Your politics, your tough guy attitude, and your integrity.  You were a man who was not only rare, but also irreplaceable.  So I ask my readers, especially Babylon 5 fans, to indulge me this parlance-laden farewell tribute to Jerry Doyle.

Jerry, you’ve gone beyond the rim to the place where no shadows fall.  We hope to join you someday but until then, please get the inside of your eyelids tattooed, make sure your ghost comes back to swap out Claudia Christian’s breakfast for lunch, slap a certain blonde’s actress’ butt when she least expects it, pour the whiskey down the sink, drink plenty of orange juice and club soda, play plenty of tennis, smoke those good cigars, and slap Walter Koenig across the face so we can all laugh and say “Garibaldi was here.”  Most of all, have an epic journey and an epic time.  We shall miss you, but now you will finally understand this was what you were born for.  Also, please, say “hi” to Richard, Tim, Andreas, Jeff, and Michael for us.

Farewell, old friend.

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