Thursday, June 25, 2015

Apologies to the Late Michael O'Hare

Michael Salsbury
Note:  I've updated this post to link to the DVD set I'm referring to here and to modify a few phrases that seemed OK to my brain at 1am but in retrospect weren't so well-written.

One of my Father's Day gifts this year was a set of DVDs and books commemorating the 20th Anniversary convention appearances by Babylon 5 series creator J. Michael ("Joe") Straczynski and the surviving cast of the series.  One of the videos talks about a promise Joe Straczynski made to someone 20 years ago.

The beginning of the video was the usual fan question and answer session with Joe.  Joe was his usual charming, intelligent, insightful, self-deprecating, funny self.  He took the last twenty minutes of the panel to talk about the Babylon 5 cast members who have passed away since the series aired:  Rick Biggs, Jeff Conaway, Andreas Katsulas, and Michael O'Hare.

Joe's comments about Rick Biggs surprised me.  He mentioned that Rick was deaf in one ear and nearly so in the other.  I had no idea. I'd met Biggs many years ago at a convention in Columbus.  He made a lasting impression on me by doing something I'd never seen a sci-fi series star do before (or since).  During the evening, he wandered about the convention center and hotel facilities mingling with the fans.  He stood behind us while a bunch of us sat in a hotel bar watching Babylon 5 airing live on television that night, shaking his head as if to say "Here I am right behind you, and you all are watching me on TV!"  He was a very nice guy and a class act.  I mention that story because Joe said that this was typical for Rick Biggs, and I believe him based on my experience.  Knowing that Joe was being honest about Biggs made what I'm about to describe very upsetting and unsettling for me.

I met Michael O'Hare at a convention in Pennsylvania.  Over the years I've met cast members from Babylon 5, the original Star Trek series, Star Trek The Next Generation, and several other shows. I found O'Hare's appearance at the time to be the single most disappointing and bizarre of them all.  He spent probably 40 minutes of the one-hour session insisting that he be recorded as he ranted about... well, I don't know what.  I couldn't make sense of what he said.  All I really knew was that he was clearly upset about something and wanted to make sure someone knew it.

That strange episode colored my perception of the man from then until today, at least 20 years later.  When Joe Straczynski talked about Michael O'Hare, he told another story I had never heard.  He said that O'Hare suffered from a physical ailment (which Joe didn't elaborate on) that caused him mental problems.  He was vague about the problems as well, but said that it involved things like delusions and paranoia.  O'Hare needed treatment for his condition, but this would involve trying various drugs and dosages that would keep him away from the set for some time.  Straczynski was willing to shut down production to allow O'Hare to get the treatment he needed, but O'Hare didn't want to cause the cast and crew to lose their jobs... so he stuck it out and finished the first season.  Joe said that it was painful, stressful, and difficult for O'Hare to do, but he did it.  When the season was over, he began getting the treatment and medications he needed to deal with his condition.  (Since writing this, my brother said that he met O'Hare years later at a convention and he was a nice, charming man who didn't at all match my description above... proof that O'Hare got the help he needed.)

Suddenly, that strange convention appearance 20 years ago, which had always made me think that O'Hare was bizarre and arrogant, made perfect sense.  O'Hare was dealing with problems that I cannot imagine and hope never to experience, so it's no wonder that the appearance was strange and unsettling.  He seemed paranoid and upset because he very likely experienced those feelings due to his medical condition.  Instead of feeling some combination of annoyance, disappointment, frustration, and disgust at O'Hare for his behavior, I suddenly felt sympathy, remorse for my own attitude toward him, and respect for someone who soldiered on despite a significant illness.  Such profound reversals are rare and unsettling.  I felt I owed Michael O'Hare an apology, immediately.

If you're out there somewhere looking down on us, Michael O'Hare, I hope you'll accept my apology for thinking and speaking ill of you for that fan appearance so many years ago.  None of us knew then what you were going through, and couldn't understand or appreciate what we were seeing.  I'm sorry that I allowed behavior that you likely weren't aware of and couldn't control to color the way I thought of you and spoke about you in the years after that.  It goes to show the old saying that you never know what someone else is going through.  This has been a lesson in compassion for me.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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