Sunday was not a kind day for our favorites in the entertainment world. Mere hours after the passing of Caroll Spinney, the kind soul behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, we were further saddened to hear about the passing of actor Rene Auberjonois from lung cancer at age 79. Many a youth cackled at his small but lively role in Disney’s The Little Mermaid as the French chef who tries to turn Sebastian the crab into an appetizer, but he’s been around since I was a kid. His repartee with Robert Guillaume on ye olde sitcom Benson (among other fine costars including Star Trek: Voyager‘s Ethan Phillips) taught me the comedy value in sparring opposites and well-timed barbs. It probably also taught me that haughty, no-nonsense stuffed shirts had much to learn about being kinder to coworkers, so there’s that value.
Most fans like me recall him fondly from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in which his metamorphic Constable Odo was the awkwardly shaped face of law and order on a space station where folks came in all shapes, sizes, textures, temperaments, and alignments. Over the course of seven seasons we watched Odo loosen up, find love, catch evildoers, sleep in a bucket, and learn horrifying truths about his origins that ultimately convinced him to renounce his evil heritage and embrace his “found family” of coworkers and local irritants. We took a while to warm up to his grumpiness, but in his defense that first season was front-loaded with grumpiness all around until the show founds its bearings and its players truly came alive.
Anne and I had the pleasure of meeting him at Starbase Indy 2013 alongside DS9 costar Armin Shimerman, whose alien bartender Quark vexed Odo to no end and provided endless episodes’ worth of verbal dueling. I wrote of the experience:
Like Shimerman, Auberjonois acknowledges his “character actor” status, but likewise enjoys a healthy career in voice-acting, where looks don’t matter but talent still does. His decision-making process for accepting roles boils down to whether or not it fulfills two out of three requirements: challenging, fun, and/or paying. He concluded his Q&A by singing “Les Poissons”, his big musical number as the French chef from The Little Mermaid, and effectively won the convention.
..and thus we learned from that day, as well as from his most memorable roles, that life is better spent with friends who’ll keep you in check, deflate you when you get too pompous, and ultimately figure you out and get under your skin in a good way. Well, sometimes, anyway.