Looking back on science and sci-fi icons we lost in 2017

Fallen stars: From Adam West to Sir Roger Moore, Joan Lee and astronaut Gene Cernan, so many big names in science, sci-fi and fantasy bade us farewell.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies. Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
6 min read

Although Carrie Fisher died in the final days of 2016, her untimely death at 60 still feels numbing and recent to many Star Wars fans, especially as Fisher appears on the big screen again in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."

Her death, quickly followed by that of her mother, singer and actress Debbie Reynolds, put a sad capper on 2016, a year so full of unexpected losses some on social media dubbed it "the year of death."

But there are losses every year. While 2016 stands out because so many big names died -- Fisher, Prince and David Bowie among them -- 2017 brought its own share of devastating losses. We've focused only on those from the fields of sci-fi, superhero, fantasy and horror entertainment, as well as those in space and science. Here's a look back.

Adam West in Batman

Adam West's suave and charming "Batman" is a camp classic.

Getty Images

Batman forever

One of the biggest names lost in 2017 was Adam West, who died in June at age 88, and is best known for his role as the most gentlemanly superhero ever to don cape and cowl. His 1960s Batman was courtly and confident, and the hero remembered as the Bright Knight will forever be the epitome of the character to many.

Magical role

For fans of the BBC's "All Creatures Great and Small," based on James Herriot's popular books about life as a Yorkshire vet, Robert Hardy will forever be Herriot's cranky boss, Siegfried Farnon. But Harry Potter fans recall Hardy, who died in August at age 91, as Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge in the Potter films. (Fantasy and literature buffs should also know Hardy studied under C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford -- now those are teachers to remember.)

Bloody good

Nelsan Ellis' character Lafayette Reynolds on HBO's "True Blood" was killed off early in Charlaine Harris' book series. But Ellis made the character such a fan favorite that the show ignored the literature and kept him on as a regular. Ellis long struggled with substance abuse and died at just 39 in July.

Moore. Roger Moore.

Sir Roger Moore had the daunting task of following in Sean Connery's shaken-not-stirred footsteps as James Bond, and not only did it (seven times) but made the character his own. Moore, who died in May at age 89, was also an advocate for children's causes and a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.

Stormy weather

Bill Paxton's resume is varied, with several of his movies, including "Aliens," "Apollo 13" and "Twister," making the science-and-space film fan's list of favorites. Paxton was just 61 when he died in February, and he was honored that same month in a novel way. Storm spotters paid tribute to the actor who put their pastime on the map in "Twister" by spelling out his initials on a map of Tornado Alley.

The doctor is in

Some know Warren Frost as George Costanza's would-be father-in-law in "Seinfeld," but it was another family connection that gave him fame with a supernatural twist. Frost's son Mark is co-creator of the mysterious "Twin Peaks," and Warren Frost played physician Doc Hayward on that 1990s cult classic and its revival. The World War II D-Day veteran died at 91 in February.


Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo in 1978's "Battlestar Galactica."

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Always Apollo

CNET's own Bonnie Burton remembers Richard Hatch of "Battlestar Galactica" fame as a geeky and charming star who always made time for his fans. Those fans remember him as dashing Captain Apollo, nominated for a Golden Globe for his debonair and charming portrayal. Hatch, who discovered his own acting talents at one of history's saddest moments -- by sharing his emotions about the loss of John F. Kennedy -- died at age 71 in February.

Bionic boss

Richard Anderson's character Oscar Goldman on "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman" had no bionics of his own, but he still was granted his own action figure, complete with exploding briefcase. That tells you just a little bit about the respect Anderson earned. The best boss of the bionic era died at age 91 in August.

Quirky and charming

Harry Dean Stanton's roles varied greatly, from Molly Ringwald's sad-sack dad in "Pretty in Pink" to doomed engineer Brett in the sci-fi-horror classic "Alien" to his part in the bizarre David Lynch movie universe. But his parts always had something in common: Fans were unable to forget the quirky, memorable roles he played, even if a more glamorous major character with a bigger part was casting a shadow over him. Stanton died in September at age 91.

Being Bela

Martin Landau won his Oscar for playing a dying Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's 1994 "Ed Wood," but his other roles are myriad. From Woody Allen to Francis Ford Coppola to Alfred Hitchcock, Landau worked with everyone who was anyone in Hollywood. He was almost Mr. Spock on the original "Star Trek," but opted for "Mission: Impossible" instead, earning Emmy nominations three years in a row. Landau died in July at age 89.

'I am a man'

Acting is difficult enough without having to do it while buried under pounds of prosthetics. Yet Sir John Hurt managed to do just that in David Lynch's acclaimed "The Elephant Man," winning a BAFTA award and a nomination for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for playing the physically deformed John Merrick. Hurt also won praise for his roles in "Midnight Express," "Alien" and as wand maker Mr. Ollivander in the Harry Potter series. Hurt died in January at age 77 after a 50-year career.


Eugene "Gene" Cernan was the 11th man to walk on the moon, as well as the last.


Last man on the moon

Astronaut Gene Cernan was the second man to walk in space, and the last man (so far) to step foot on the moon. All in all, he spent 73 hours on the moon's surface, and as he departed that day in 1972, he expressed hopes humans would one day go back. "We leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind," he said. Cernan died in January at age 82.

King of the zombies

George A. Romero's "Living Dead" franchise brought moviegoers a whole new vision of zombies, and created a classic horror-movie monster that's still staggering today. The director had strong opinions on his creations too, saying, "Zombies cannot run. Their ankles would snap. What did they do, go and join a spa the moment they rose from the dead?" Romero died in July at age 77.

Kindest man in horror

Director Tobe Hooper remembers exactly why he made chainsaws terrifying. He was stuck in a crowded hardware store when he spotted the tool, and envisioned himself starting on up to clear his way through the mob. Later, "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" was born, and it has since passed into horror-movie legend. Hooper also made televisions and swimming pools things of terror thanks to his acclaimed "Poltergeist." But the man himself was praised for his unfailing kindness. He died in August at age 74.

Iconic and eclectic

Jonathan Demme couldn't be pigeonholed. The director's most famous film was probably the chilling "Silence of the Lambs," but you didn't have to appreciate that eerie story to be a fan of Demme's work. He also made "Melvin and Howard," "Stop Making Sense," "Rachel Getting Married" and "Philadelphia," among other acclaimed movies. And "Mystery Science Theater 3000" fans will always lovingly recall Demme's minor role as a victim of "The Incredible Melting Man" in a classic scene from that not-so-classic film. Demme died in April at age 73.

Marvel-ous partner

Marriages in comic books are often short-lived, but Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee and wife Joan were wed for nearly 70 years, and reportedly devotedly so. Joan Lee was also a writer, and played voice roles in the "Spider-Man" and "Fantastic Four" TV series of the 1990s. Stan Lee credits her with coaxing him to keep at the comics business when he was about to give up, and with her encouragement, he went on to create the Fantastic Four. Joan Lee was in her 90s when she died in July (media sources are split on whether she was 93 or 95).

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