James Doohan, the burly chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise in the original “Star Trek” TV series and motion pictures who responded to the command “Beam me up, Scotty,” died Wednesday in Redmond, Wash. of pneumonia and Alzheimer’s disease. He was 85.
The Canadian-born Doohan was enjoying a busy career as a character actor when he auditioned for a role as an engineer in a new space adventure on NBC in 1966. A master of dialects from his early years in radio, he tried seven different accents.
“The producers asked me which one I preferred,” Doohan recalled 30 years later. “I believed the Scot voice was the most commanding. So I told them, ‘If this character is going to be an engineer, you’d better make him a Scotsman.'”
The series, which starred William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as the enigmatic Mr. Spock, attracted an enthusiastic following of science fiction fans, especially among teenagers and children, but not enough ratings power. NBC canceled it after three seasons.
“Star Trek” continued in syndicated TV both in the United States and abroad, and its following grew larger and more dedicated. In his later years, Doohan attended 40 “Trekkie” gatherings around the country and lectured at colleges.
The huge success of George Lucas’s “Star Wars” in 1977 prompted Paramount Pictures, which had produced “Star Trek” for TV, to plan a movie based on the series. The studio brought back the TV cast and hired director, Robert Wise. “Star Trek — The Motion Picture” was successful enough to spawn five sequels, and Doohan appeared in all five.
James Montgomery Doohan was born in Vancouver, B.C. As he wrote in his autobiography, “Beam Me Up, Scotty,” his father was a drunk who made life miserable for his wife and children.
At 19, James escaped the turmoil at home by joining the Canadian army, becoming a lieutenant in artillery. He was among the Canadian forces that landed on Juno Beach on D-Day.
The Canadians crossed a minefield laid for tanks; the soldiers weren’t heavy enough to detonate the bombs. At 11:30 that night, he was machine-gunned, taking six hits: one that took off his middle right finger (he usually managed to hide the missing finger on the screen), four in his leg and one in the chest. Fortunately the chest bullet was stopped by his silver cigarette case.
After the war Doohan on a whim enrolled in a drama class in Toronto. He showed promise and won a two-year scholarship to New York’s famed Neighborhood Playhouse, where fellow students included Leslie Nielsen, Tony Randall and Richard Boone.
His commanding presence and booming voice brought him work as a character actor in films and television, both in Canada and the U.S. Oddly, his only recurring role was another space adventure, “Space Command,” in 1953. He also guest-starred in series including “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke,” “Marcus Welby” and “Fantasy Island,” and appeared in features such as “Test Pilot” and “Pretty Maids All in a Row.”
His last role was in this year’s horror pic “Skinwalker: Curse of the Shaman.”
In a 1998 interview, Doohan was asked if he ever got tired of hearing the line “Beam me up, Scotty.”
“I’m not tired of it at all,” he replied. “Good gracious, it’s been said to me for just about 31 years. It’s been said to me at 70 miles an hour across four lanes on the freeway. I hear it from just about everybody. It’s been fun.”
Doohan’s first marriage to Judy Doohan produced four children. He had two children by his second marriage to Anita Yagel. Both marriages ended in divorce. In 1974 he married Wende Braunberger, and their children were Eric, Thomas and Sarah, who was born in 2000, when Doohan was 80.