Sunday, August 04, 2013

Michael Ansara, RIP

Veteran character actor Michael Ansara passed away late last week at the age of 91 after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. While he had receded from the public eye since the late '90s, he leaves behind a considerable body of work, having brought several memorable genre characters to vivid life -- sometimes with just his voice. The Syrian-born Ansara broke into acting in the mid-1940s and found a successful niche with his exotic looks and unmistakeable vocal delivery. After his breakthrough as Cochise on 1950s TV series Broken Arrow, he rarely stopped working thereafter, portraying a succession of Arabs, Hispanics, Native Americans, and whatever "others" scripts called for.

In 1968 he visited the original Star Trek in the episode "Day of the Dove" as honorable Klingon Captain Kang, a character he'd reprise on Deep Space Nine in 1994 and Voyager in 1996 (making him one of only a handful of actors to play the same role on three different Trek series). I first saw him when he played Abu Sufyan, the Meccan leader who first opposes -- then accedes to -- Prophet Muhammad in 1977's The Message. He followed that up in 1978 with an integral role as Lame Beaver, a protagonist in the sprawling TV adaptation of James Michener's novel Centennial.

In later years, Ansara regularly showed up on stuff like Buck Rogers or Babylon 5 here or there, but even when his onscreen work diminished, he found a perfect outlet for his talents via voiceover, playing characters as varied as the evil General Warhawk on the Rambo cartoon show, Spider-Man's Native American ally Hiawatha Smith on Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, and, perhaps most indelibly, the definitive version of Bat-villain Mr. Freeze on Batman: The Animated Series (as well as various spin-offs). He will be missed, but thanks to performances like the one below from "Heart of Ice," his first Batman appearance, he'll never be forgotten:

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