Babylon 5 actor and director Stephen Furst passed away on June 16, 2017 due to complication from diabetes. He was 62.
While more broadly known for his cinematic debut as Kent “Flounder” Dorfman in 1978’s Animal House and his recurring role as Dr. Elliot Axelrod in the St. Elsewhere TV Series, SciFi fans will always remember him as the earnest, timid and often bumbling Centauri diplomatic attache Vir Cotto on Babylon 5.
All too often, the secondary characters in a show are relegated to mere plot devices with two-dimensional personalities and maybe nothing more than a first name. Playing sidekick to the scheming, vindictive Centauri Ambassador Londo Molarri (played by Peter Jurasik) Vir became a bigger part of the story than his role as flunky would have suggested. Over the four seasons of J. Michael Straczynski’s show, Vir went from being a “gopher” for Londo’s machinations to becoming his de facto conscience.
Vir often warned his boss of the consequences that would result from his decisions. When possible, Vir would try to nudge events in the right direction when executing his orders. By the last season in 1997, Vir became somewhat of a moral center in the moral ambiguity of the swirling intrigues that filled the space station. He was one of those rare background characters who moved out of the shadows to assume an indispensable and heroic role, actively influencing events.
Landing the Role
When he was first called in to read for Babylon 5, Furst wasn’t a fan of SciFi. In an interview, he recalled showing up for the audition, “and there’s like ten guys in the room, and they all have their hair up like in a fan. I’m thinking, ‘What the hell is going on?’ And so I walked into the room and I said, ‘You know, I’m really sorry, I didn’t know about the hair thing, and of course I would have done it …’ Making excuses. They looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my god, it’s Vir.’ So I only had to read like one scene, and they said, ‘We want you to do our show.'”
And, indeed Stephen Furst was Vir based on the numerous accolades being posted by his fellow cast members, including this one from Bruce Boxleitner, aka John Sheridan, “His portrayal of Vir always made us smile, as did he every day on the set.”
In addition to acting on the show, Furst also directed three episodes of Babylon 5 and two episodes of its short-lived follow on, Crusade.
Stephen Furst is survived by his wife of over 40 years, Lorraine Wright and their two sons; Nathan, a television and film composer, and Griff, an actor, director and musician.
Stephen Furst’s official website: http://stephenfurst.com