Gene Roddenberry, Creator of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 70


Gene Roddenberry, whose “Star Trek” concept of space travel to futuristic civilizations in an often-hostile universe spawned two wildly popular TV series and five movies, died Thursday in Santa Monica. He was 70.

A Paramount Pictures spokesman said the “Star Trek” creator was stricken at his West Los Angeles home and was taken to Santa Monica Hospital-Medical Center, where he died at 2:46 p.m. from a blood clot in his heart.

Studio spokesman Harry Anderson said Roddenberry, a former airline pilot and Los Angeles police sergeant, had been in ill health in recent months.


His death comes two months before the release of the sixth movie in the series, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” and during production of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the TV series to which Roddenberry served as executive consultant.

Roddenberry was warmly remembered by those who were involved, as well as touched, by the “Star Trek” saga.

“Few ideas in the annals of motion picture and television history have inspired more passion and allegiance on the part of an audience than has Star Trek,” said Brandon Tartikoff, chairman of Paramount Pictures.

“Twenty-five years ago, Gene Roddenberry imagined an optimistic future for us all, and his vision will live on well into the future.”

Actor Leonard Nimoy, whose stoic, pointy-eared Mr. Spock captivated viewers with “logical” reasoning, said through his agent: “He had an extraordinary vision about mankind and the potential of mankind’s future.”

George Takei, who played Lt. Hikaru Sulu in the original series and in the films, called Roddenberry a dear friend whose death “is not just a loss for Hollywood but all humanity.”


The “Star Trek” saga bore the philosophical stamp of Roddenberry, who projected visions of harmonious relationships in the universe.

He was generally viewed as being far ahead of his time in presenting female and minority characters on the TV series.

He moved with feminist leanings and changed the current program’s opening lines. Instead of trumpeting the Enterprise crew’s voyages to places “where no man has gone before,” Roddenberry changed the line to “where no one has gone before.”

The most successful of the movies was 1986’s “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” in which the crew of the starship Enterprise went back in time to San Francisco of the 1980s and rescued whales. The movie grossed more than $110 million domestically.

The release of the newest movie in the series, set for Dec. 13, will not be affected by Roddenberry’s death, Paramount executives said.

“Star Trek” has been a cherished and often-imitated icon of American culture since it was first introduced to viewers on NBC on Sept. 8, 1966, with an episode called “The Man Trap.”


In the premiere, actor DeForest Kelley, who played the testy Dr. Leonard (Bones) McCoy, uttered a simple phase upon seeing a dead space alien. The line was seized upon by the show’s devotees, who still recite it with relish:

“He’s dead, Jim.”

Jim, of course, was the unflappable Capt. James T. Kirk--played by William Shatner--who commanded the Enterprise, the vehicle for the weekly voyages into television history.

The show spawned legions of loyal fans, known among themselves as Trekkers and to others as Trekkies.

The show lasted just three seasons on NBC, but the fierce loyalty the Trekkers pledged to it outlasted the NBC brass who thought Roddenberry’s original pilot for the program was “too cerebral” for television viewers.

Episodes of the original series are still broadcast on more than 200 TV stations in the United States. It has been translated into 47 languages and, as Roddenberry said in a Times Magazine story earlier this year, became a favorite of Tibetan monks.

“If the Dalai Lama likes us, I suppose the message is getting out,” Roddenberry said.

Indeed, the current TV show, which premiered in 1987 with a new cast of characters, is one of television’s most popular syndicated shows, seen by more than 17 million viewers each week.


And the five “Star Trek” movies have grossed $398 million.

That does not include the souvenirs that were available in connection with this year’s 25th anniversary celebration of the show: a “Star Trek” T-shirt for $10; a 10-inch-high doll of Mr. Spock for $60, and Star Fleet Academy sweat pants for $20.

Roddenberry was born on Aug. 19, 1921, in El Paso, Tex. He flew 89 missions in B-17 bombers in the South Pacific during World War II, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

He began to write while in the South Pacific, selling stories to flying magazines and poetry to publications including the New York Times.

When he returned from the war, the burly Roddenberry became a trouble-shooter for the Air Force, investigating the causes of air crashes. In 1945, after the war ended, he joined Pan American World Airways. His plane crashed at night in the Syrian desert on a flight from Calcutta and he directed a harrowing rescue that included fending off nomads who came to rob the dead.

He continued his writing after joining the Los Angeles Police Department in 1949, rising to the rank of sergeant.

At the time, he was selling scripts to such programs as “Goodyear Theatre,” “The Kaiser Aluminum Hour” and “Dragnet.” With his writing credentials established, he quit the Police Department in 1953 and turned full-time to writing for the screen.


He was head writer for “Have Gun, Will Travel,” and his episode “Helen of Abliginian” won the Writers Guild Award. He next created “The Lieutenant” TV series, the story of a young Marine.

Roddenberry also produced the 1971 movie “Pretty Maids All in a Row,” starring Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson and Telly Savalas.

He is survived by wife Majel Barrett, an actress in both of the “Star Trek” TV series; two daughters; a son; a sister and his mother.

A Paramount spokesman said a memorial service is tentatively set for 2 p.m. on Nov. 1 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills.