The actor best known for his roles on television shows “Benson” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” René Auberjonois has died. He was 79 years old.
The actor died in his home on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Los Angeles. He died of metastatic lung cancer, according to his son, Remy Auberjonois.
Auberjonois worked consistently as a character actor in several golden ages: From the dynamic theater in the 1960s to the cinema renaissance of the 1970s to the period of network television in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Each generation knew him for different roles.
Movie fans in the ‘70s knew him as Father John Mulcahy, the military chaplain who played straight man to the doctors’ antics in “M*A*S*H.” This was his first significant film role.
Sitcom viewers in the ‘80s knew Auberjonois as Clayton Runnymede Endicott III, the hopelessly highbrow chief of staff at the governor’s mansion on “Benson,” the ABC series whose title character was a butler played by Robert Guillaume.
Sci-fi fans in the ‘90s knew him as Odo, the shape-shifting Changeling and head of space-station security on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
In an interview with the “Star Trek” website, Auberjonois said, “I am all of those characters, and I love that. I also run into people, and they think I’m their cousin or their dry cleaner. I love that too.”
Auberjonois was born in New York in 1940. His parents where Fernand Auberjonois, Swiss-born foreign correspondent for U.S. newspapers, and the grandson of a Swiss post-impressionist painter also named René Auberjonois.
The actor was raised in New York, London, and Paris. For a time he lived with his family in an artists’ colony in Rockland County, New York. The residents included actors John Houseman, Helen Hayes, and Burgess Meredith.
After graduating from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon, Auberjonois traveled around the country joining theater companies, eventually, he landed three roles on Broadway in 1968. One of the three roles included playing the Fool in a long-running version of “King Lear.”
In 1969, he would play Sebastian Baye opposite Katherine Hepburn in “Coco.” It was a play about the life of designer Coco Chanel. This role would earn Auberjonois a Tony for best actor in a leading role in a musical.
Later, he would receive Tony nominations for his roles in 1973’s “The Good Doctor,” 1984’s “Big River,” and 1989’s “City of Angels.”
In 1970, Auberjonois began his run with director Robert Altman, playing Mulcahy in “M*A*S*H.”
In his most famous exchange from the movie, Sally Kellerman’s Margaret Houlihan wonders how such a degenerate doctor as Capt. Benjamin Franklin Pierce, aka “Hawkeye,” could reach a position of responsibility in the U.S. Army.
A Bible-reading Auberjonois responds, deadpan, “He was drafted.”
In 2016, the actor spoke on the podcast, “The Gist,” “I actually made that line up when we were rehearsing the scene. And it became a kind of iconic like for the whole film.”
Additionally, in 2016, he played an off-the-wall ornithologist in Altman’s “Brewster McCloud,” and a saloonkeeper alongside Warren Beatty in the director’s Western “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” in 1971 and appeared in Altman’s “Images” in 1972.
Auberjonois spent most of the ‘70s playing guest spots on television shows before he joined the cast of “Benson” in its second season in 1980. There he would remain for the rest of the show’s seven seasons. He played the patrician political advisor and chronic hypochondriac Endicott.
Later in his career, Auberjonois would do voice acting for animated movies. His most memorable animated role was as the French chef who sings “Les Poissons” in Disney’s 1989, “The Little Mermaid.”
From 1993 to 1998, he played Odo on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” Additionally, he became a regular at “Star Trek” conventions. At these conventions, he raised money for Doctors Without Borders and signed autographs with a drawing of Odo’s bucket, where the character would store himself when he returned to his natural gelatinous state.
From 2004-2008, Auberjonois was a regular on ABC’s “Boston Legal.”
More recently in his career, Auberjonois worked with independent filmmakers, including director Kelly Reichardt, for whom he appeared in the 2016 film, “Certain Women” and the 2019 film “First Cow.” This was his final role.
Auberjonois is survived by his wife of 56 years, Judith, and their two children, Tessa and Remy.
By Jeanette Vietti
Hollywood Reporter: René Auberjonois, ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Benson’ Actor, Dies at 79
Washington Post: René Auberjonois, actor featured in ‘Star Trek’ and Altman films, dies at 79
Comic Book: Star Trek Stars Mourn the Loss of Rene Auberjonois
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