Last night, while I drove home from the store (my ever-faithful wired Xbox 360 controller finally died, so I had to buy a new one), a stray thought floated into my mind: we’ve lost a lot of big names in entertainment and geek culture in the past few years, many of whom are responsible for the entertainment industry being what it is today.
As a geek, I grew up admiring the work of many people who’ve had a lasting impact on the entertainment industry. Leonard Nimoy and Adam West were actors who helped make live-action television shows what they are today. Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock in Star Trek sold the character as an alien, not just in body but also in mind. While Spock’s appearance as a human in elf-ears can be chalked up to the budget of the show, Nimoy demonstrated that the best aliens in sci-fi aren’t those who look different, but those who think differently. As for Mr. West, his breakout role as Batman in, well, Batman has influenced the comic industry. The show was campy and silly, but it was wildly entertaining and had fun with itself. West’s portrayal established there’s no wrong way to portray Batman. He could be a ham who surfs and fends off sharks with aerosol cans, and yet it would be no more wrong a portrayal than an old, grizzled, no-nonsense vigilante who gladly breaks the bones of particularly dangerous criminals. Oh, and I can’t forget about Carrie Fisher, whose portrayal of Princess Leia in Star Wars gave life to the character and showed princesses in fictional movies can be more than damsels in distress.
Sometimes the biggest influences aren’t front and center stage, and yet their deaths are no less painful. George Romero, the man who made zombies so popular they became their own movie genre, died several months ago. Thanks to his genius, zombie movies entered a new level of complexity and transformed into strong pieces of social commentary, especially in the ways disasters bring out the best and worst in people. And then there is ex-Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata; he helped mold Nintendo into the family-friendly company it is today. He was also integral in the production of numerous beloved Nintendo games/franchises, including several Kirby, Pokemon, and Metroid games, countless Mario and The Legend of Zelda games, almost every Super Smash Bros. game, Earthbound, and even Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. Speaking of big influences who are no longer with us, fewer were bigger or more influential than Haruo Nakajima, who died last August. You might not recognize Nakajima’s name or face, but you know his most famous role: Godzilla (or Gojira to purists). Nakajima was a devoted actor; he put on the 200 pound monster suit and stomped around a tiny set as many times as it took to make a good film. Nakajima’s passion helped make Godzilla a household name and popularized giant monster movies, especially ones that featured actors in oversized rubber suits. In fact, had Nakajima not put in as much heart and soul (and sweat) as he did in his portrayal of Godzilla, giant monster movies might not have become so popular a film genre, or worse, suitimation might never have replaced stop motion when it came to animating movie monsters. I can only imagine what kind of world we would live in without Nakajima’s passion and hard work.
These are only a sample of influences who have died recently — influences someone somewhere can say they grew up with. It’s sad, but eventually we lose the stars and voices of our generation. All we can do once they die is keep their lessons and memories in our hearts. And really, is there any better way to honor those we adore?