by Michael Brown, staff writer
Gene Roddenberry, the man who took us all where no one had gone before, would have celebrated a birthday today. Gene Roddenberry was born August 19, 1921 in El Paso, Texas, but grew up in Los Angeles, and actually shares his birthday with two other Star Trek alumni, Jonathan Frakes and Diana Muldaur. The son of a police officer, Roddenberry was an American hero, having flown 89 combat missions in the United States Army Air Force during World War II, decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. He also worked as a commercial pilot after returning home in 1945. Roddenberry followed in his father’s footsteps and wore a badge himself for a time, as a means to provide for his family, but began to write scripts for television.
Before giving fans a glimpse at the final frontier, Roddenberry wrote scripts for Highway Patrol, Have Gun-Will Travel, and other series of the time, and eventually created and produced his own series, The Lieutenant, which was set inside the United States Marine Corps, and starred Nichelle Nichols in the first episode. It would only last one season.
In 1964, Roddenberry developed his “wagon train to the stars,” Star Trek, and sold it to NBC and Desilu Studios, after being rejected by CBS. Star Trek received modest approval from NBC, despite constant production issues and Roddenberry’s fight with producers to keep his vision the way he wanted it. Star Trek premiered on September 8, 1966 and ran for three seasons until viewers lost interest. Star Trek would live on in syndication, however, and his vision would eventually become a media juggernaut, with nine films, four spinoff series, an animated series, countless novels, and video games.
In the late 1980s, as the revival series Star Trek: The Next Generation was in full swing, Roddenberry was afflicted by the early stages of cerebral vascular disease, said to be a result of his longtime abuse of recreational and prescription drugs. Following a stroke in 1989, which would only cause further health problems, Roddenberry passed away on October 24, 1991. A portion of Roddenberry’s cremated remains were launched into space in 1997 by Celestis, a company that performs “space burials,” as a tribute for his contributions, but in 2002 the spacecraft that orbited fell back to Earth. Another launch is planned for 2015, this time for deep space, and carrying the remains of wife and Star Trek co-star Majel Barrett-Roddenberry.
After Roddenberry’s death, Andromeda and Earth: Final Conflict, which were based on unused stories that he had written, were released into syndication. Andromeda, starring Kevin Sorbo of Hercules fame in the lead role as Captain Dylan Hunt, was the more successful of the two.
And now, of course, the floodgates have opened. Since his passing, hundreds of hours of new Star Trek have graced both airways and internet, including:
- Deep Space 9 (1993-1999)
- Voyager (1995–2001)
- Enterprise (2001–2005)
- Discovery (2017–present)
- Short Treks (2018–2020)
- Picard (2020–present)
- Lower Decks (2020–present)
- Prodigy (2021–present)
- Strange New Worlds (2022–present)
The new productions are remarkable, and follow in the footsteps of the other post-Roddenberry shows in that the showrunners, for the most part, understand both the legacy and the spirit of Star Trek as Roddenberry first conceived of it.
Gene Roddenberry’s vision lives on long after his death, with much of the technology he predicted for Star Trek in use today, or being developed. And we can all certainly get behind his dream of a future where we are at peace, with no wants or needs, free to focus on what lies ahead, forging a better life for all.
Gene Roddenberry would have been 101 today.
We at SCIFI.radio celebrate Mr. Roddenberry’s life and achievements, and even now still mourn his passing. The world is vastly richer for Gene Roddenberry having passed this way, and see our futures deeply reshaped and guided toward a brighter future, all thanks to him.
Godspeed, Mr. Roddenberry.
Michael Brown is a comics nerd and a father who lives in small town Tennessee. When he’s not making his players mad in his “Shadowrun” RPG or experimenting with new and inventive uses of duct tape on his children, you can find him checking out the latest comics and movies for SCIFI.radio!