Honoring the Inspiring Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Luminaries Lost in 2023

Honoring the Inspiring Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Luminaries Lost in 2023

Every year, io9 pays solemn tribute to actors, directors, artists, composers, writers, creators, and other icons in the realms of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy that have passed. Let us celebrate their everlasting impact on genre together. Here are the luminaries whose work has impacted the lives of so many and will live on through their legacies.

In Memoriam

Cult comedy legend Paul Reubens
Photo: Mike Pont (Getty Images)

Paul Reubens – Best-known for his iconic character Pee-wee Herman—a singular blend of subversive, innocent, hilarious, and heartfelt—Reubens won over fans of all ages thanks to Tim Burton’s 1985 feature Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, now a comedy classic, and his kooky, Emmy-winning TV series Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Beyond Pee-wee, Reubens further enhanced his cult-legend status with turns in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie), Mystery Men, and Blow, plus voice roles in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Flight of the Navigator, among others.

Piper Laurie – Many character actors get one iconic role; Laurie had multiple standout moments across her nearly 70-year career. But genre fans probably know her best as Carrie White’s dangerously controlling, dangerously religious mother in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (which brought her one of her three Oscar nominations)—and as the wonderfully scheming Catherine Martell in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (for which she won a Golden Globe).

Bert I. Gordon – Dubbed “Mr. BIG” by Famous Monsters of Filmland’s Forrest J. Ackerman, Gordon was indeed big-time when it came to creating delightfully schlocky, creature-packed sci-fi movies across multiple decades, including 1957’s The Amazing Colossal Man, 1965’s Village of the Giants, 1976’s The Food of the Gods, and 1977’s Empire of the Ants.

In Memoriam

Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
Photo: Warner Bros. (Getty Images)

Tina Turner – The legendary Queen of Rock n’ Roll, Turner was a prolific singer-songwriter known for her fiery live performances and chart-topping hits hits such as “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”, “Proud Mary”, and “The Best,” among others. She also brought her star power to the post-apocalypse, delivering a scene-stealing performance in Mad Mad: Beyond Thunderdome.

Ray Stevenson – Mobster, Punisher, Jedi, and more, Stevenson was a reliable presence throughout film and TV for 30 years. Though he was last seen on Star Wars: Ahsoka, he still has one final performance in the upcoming film 1242: Gateway to the West.

Andre Braugher – Braugher’s eclectic career spanned the theater, along with TV dramas and comedies like Men of a Certain Age and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. From time to time, he also did voice work in BoJack Horseman and played the DC Comics villain Darkseid in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.

In Memoriam

Oscar-winning director William Friedkin
Photo: Rosdiana Ciaravolo (Getty Images)

William Friedkin – Friedkin shook up the horror genre—and unsuspecting moviegoers—with The Exorcist in 1973, and for some filmmakers that would be a career-defining moment. It was for Friedkin too, but he was so talented and versatile that his career also enfolded many other notable movies, including neo-noir thriller The French Connection, which won five Oscars (including Best Director for Friedkin, and Best Picture), as well as Sorcerer, Cruising, and To Live and Die in LA. He also directed documentaries, TV episodes and movies, and operas, and penned an acclaimed memoir, The Friedkin Connection.

Shawna Trpcic – Costume designer Trpcic became an integral part of the Star Wars universe she herself was a huge fan of by bringing her talents to multiple Disney+ series. Her contributions can be seen on The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Ahsoka.

Robert Butler – You may not know the name Robert Butler but his work has been more influential to pop culture and cinema today than one could possibly imagine. Butler passed away this year at the age of 95 but spent his career directing television shows, including The Twilight Zone, Mission Impossible, and Hogan’s Heroes. But Butler is best known for directing the pilots, and several subsequent episodes of, the original Batman and Star Trek TV shows. Two shows whose look and feel, in large part established by Butler, endures and remains beloved to this very day. He even kept the DC tradition alive some decades later, doing the pilot for Lois and Clark.

In Memoriam

Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC
Image: Hammer Films

Raquel Welch – The bombshell actress came to the public’s attention in 1966 with Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years BC, the latter of which was made immortal by a best-selling poster featuring Welch as a foxy cave-woman. Though her career encompassed many genres, including the sci-fi and fantasy films that first made her famous, she especially excelled in action comedies including 1973’s The Three Musketeers, for which she won a Golden Globe, and over the years earned a cult following thanks to her turns in 1970’s Myra Breckenridge, 1967’s Fathom, 1973’s The Last of Sheila, and others.

Kenpachiro Satsuma – The man behind the King of all Kaiju for over a decade, Satsuma was the second actor to play Godzilla in Toho’s legendary monster movie franchise. The defining Godzilla suit actor of the Heisei era, Satsuma’s portrayal of the creature brought a more animalistic and monstrous air after Godzilla’s reputation had been softened over the years since his 1954 debut.

Ricou Browning – Known for bringing to life The Creature from The Black Lagoon, the performer served as the on-screen stunt swimmer for the Universal Monsters classic as the Gill-Man. He went on to direct the underwater sequences for the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball and co-created the Flipper films.

Lara Parker – Fans of Dark Shadows will forever remember Parker as one of the show’s most beloved ambassadors; she played the witch Angelique Bouchard on over 350 episodes of Dan Curtis’ spooky ABC soap as well as the 1971 film Night of Dark Shadows, and she penned several Dark Shadows novels. Parker also had memorable guest-starring roles on several 1970s TV shows, including playing a different witch character on Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

In Memoriam

Lance Reddick on the red carpet for John Wick 3
Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin (Getty Images)

Lance Reddick – There are so many things to be said about the talented Lance Reddick. From John Wick movies to the Horizon games, to Fringe and The Wire and the Eric Andre Show, he was one of those actors who you’d always be delighted to see pop up in things.

Matthew Perry – Though actor Matthew Perry tragically died this year at the age of 54, he’ll remain with us always. That’s because he was so charismatic and prolific—and because at any time, on any day, you can turn on the TV and find an episode of his hit show Friends airing. Perry played the sharp-witted Chandler Bing on the show, in a performance that helped to definite the comedic sensibilities of a generation. He appeared in all manner of movies too, from fantasy to romantic comedy and back again, but it’s Friends that will keep Perry forever in our hearts.

Annie Wersching – Known for her appearances in Star Trek: Picard, Timeless, and The Last of Us, Wersching passed away in late January following a years-long battle with cancer.

Darren Kent – Darren Kent passed away at age 39 this year and while you might not know his face, his body of work in a very short period of time spoke volumes. Born in 1984, Kent didn’t really get started until 2008 in the film Mirrors. He had a rare skin condition which might have hindered some people, but he instead took advantage. He embraced the look and appeared in Snow White and the Huntsman, Game of Thrones, Les Misérables, EastEnders, and, most recently, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

In Memoriam

Lisa Loring as Wednesday Addams
Photo: ABC Photo Archives (Getty Images)

Lisa Loring – The very first on-screen Wednesday Addams and star of The Addams Family sitcom, Loring went on to be featured in soaps such as As the World Turns. She also appeared in B-movie horror films in the ‘80s, including Blood Frenzy, Savage Harbor, and Iced.

Phyllis Coates – The first actress to play Lois Lane on television, Coates starred as the intrepid comics reporter in Superman and the Mole Men and then the first season of Adventures of Superman. Although she did not return for its sophomore season, Coates’ Superman legacy continued decades later when she played Lois’ mother Ellen in the ‘90s TV series Lois & Clark.

James McCaffrey – On TV, James McCaffrey played Jimmy Keefe on Rescue Me and Arthur O’Breun in New York Undercover. But in video games, he was best known for voicing Max Payne throughout the trilogy of the same name. He also played Zachariah Trench and Alex Casey in Remedy’s respective games, Control and Alan Wake II.

In Memoriam

John Romita Sr. signing comics
Photo: Marc Stamas (Getty Images)

John Romita Sr. – The world of Marvel wouldn’t be what it was today if it wasn’t for the work of this artist. Romita passed away this year at the age of 93 but left a legacy of comic book visuals and quality that won’t soon be forgotten. Though he helped define the look of many characters at Marvel over its long history—Captain America, Wolverine, Punisher—it was Romita’s long run on The Amazing Spider-Man that helped that character become the megastar he is today.

Rachel Pollack – The trans icon behind one of the most fascinating eras on DC’s Doom Patrol, Pollack was a trailblazer for championing queer themes and issues in her comics work and wider writing, and will be forever remembered for paving the way with Coagula, the first openly trans superhero in a DC comic.

Sheldon Menery – One of the defining figures behind Magic: The Gathering’s Commander format, Menery was a champion of both the game’s professional scene, where he served as a judge for many years, as well as the development of Magic’s capacity as a social game, leading to the development and popularization of Commander, now one of the game’s most-played formats.

Keith Giffen – During his comic book career, Giffen helped create a number of now well-known characters for Marvel and DC. In addition to being co-creator of Rocket Raccoon and Jaime Reyes, he helped helm the acclaimed Justice League International series of 1987 with J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire.

In Memoriam

Richard Roundtree, a genre pioneer
Photo: Unique Nicole (Getty Images)

Richard Roundtree – Having played detective John Shaft in the franchise of the same name, Roundtree is credited with being the first Black action hero. His success in Blaxploitation films paved the way for other Black actors to headline Hollywood projects, action or otherwise.

Ian McGinty – A comic book writer and artist well-known in animation circles, McGinty previously worked on Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors comics, along with his own original series, Welcome to Showside.

Burny Mattinson – The animator, story artist, director, and producer was Walt Disney Animation’s longest standing employee. His seven-decade career began on Lady and the Tramp, hit a milestone as the director of Mickey’s Christmas Carol and as producer on The Great Mouse Detective, and his great legacy of Disney films was capped by providing story artistry on Wish. The Disney legend appears in the centennial short Once Upon A Studio.

In Memoriam

Michael Gambon as Professor Dumbledore
Image: Warner Bros.

Michael Gambon – Michael Gambon was one of the most prolific actors of his generation long before he got the role that would endear him to another generation. Gambon, who passed away this year at age 82, began acting at age 24, performing the works of Shakespeare on stage, before moving on to a film career that included Toys, Mary Reilly, The Insider, Layer Cake, and The King’s Speech. However, it was in 2004 when he took over the role of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series that his work became appreciated on a whole new level. Gambon’s Dumbledore was cheeky, confident and larger than life. All things that describe him too.

Jamie Christopher – When a person passes, they’d probably not want to be remembered just for their body of work. But in the case of mega-prolific assistant director Christopher, it’s so incredibly impressive, how could he not? Christopher worked not just on most of the Harry Potter films, but a massive amount of Marvel films (Avengers 2, Guardians 1, Black Widow, Thor 2) as well as touchstone genre titles like Alien 3, The Fifth Element, Justice League, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. 

Richard Franklin – A star of the stage before breaking into TV with the legendary British soap series Crossroads, Franklin will be remembered by Doctor Who fans as the face of Captain Mike Yates, one of the UNIT officers assigned to John Pertwee’s Third Doctor during his exile on earth. One of the key recurring characters on the series in the early ‘70s during its Earth-bound status quo, Franklin would reprise his role as Yates multiple times across Who’s history, including in the 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors” and in several audio dramas from Big Finish.

In Memoriam

Arleen Sorkin, baseball bat in hand—which probably served as inspiration for Harley Quinn’s weapon.
Photo: NBC (Getty Images)

Arleen Sorkin – The inspiration and the voice of Harley Quinn on Batman: The Animated Series, Arleen Sorkin served as the blueprint for the anti-hero created by Paul Dini in so many ways. The character hailed from a Days of Our Lives episode Sorkin starred in, which featured her as a jester in a dream sequence—or so Dini has cited as the spark for our beloved Harleen Quinzel. Originally intended to only appear in the 1992 episode “Joker’s Favor,” her popularity soared thanks to Sorkin’s performance, and Harley soon became a part of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. She continued to voice Harley in video games, with her final roles being 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and 2011’s DC Universe Online.

Richard Moll – Anyone who grew up in the 1980s or 1990s would instantly recognize Richard Moll. Moll played the lovable goof, Bull, on the hit show Night Court (which recently was rebooted). Bull was one of the most adored characters on the show thanks in large part to Moll’s vulnerable, hilarious performance. And while that was his signature role, he his career spanned all manner of TV shows and films, with one standout being the voice of Two-Face on Batman: The Animated Series and its subsequent spinoffs.

Peter Spellos – Beloved for his work as a voice actor in multiple iconic US anime dubs—from Cowboy Bebop to Code Geass and Digimon—Spellos was best known to animation fans for voicing Sky-Byte in Transformers: Robots in Disguise.

Coco Lee – Hong Kong singer-songwriter Coco Lee voiced Mulan in the Mandarin dub of the Disney classic. Her music was included in soundtracks for films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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