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Movies

René Auberjonois, actor who starred in M*A*S*H*, Star Trek and Benson, dies aged 79


René Auberjonois, a prolific actor best known for his roles on the television shows Benson and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and his part in the 1970 film M*A*S*H*, has died aged 79.

The actor died on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles of metastatic lung cancer, his son Rèmy-Luc Auberjonois said.

René Auberjonois worked constantly as a character actor in several golden ages, from the dynamic theatre of the 1960s to the cinema renaissance of the 1970s to the prime period of network television in the 1980s and 90s.

For film fans of the 1970s, he was Father John Mulcahy, the military chaplain who played straight man to the doctors antics in M.A.S.H. It was his first significant film role and the first of several for director Robert Altman.

René Auberjonois in 1970, the year he palyed Father Mulcahy in the screen version of M.A.S.H.



René Auberjonois in 1970, the year he palyed Father Mulcahy in the screen version of M.A.S.H. Photograph: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

For sitcom watchers of the 1980s, he was Clayton Runnymede Endicott III, the hopelessly highbrow chief of staff at a governors mansion on Benson, the ABC series whose title character was a butler played by Robert Guillaume.

And for sci-fi fans of the 1990s and convention-goers ever since, he was Odo, the shape-shifting Changeling and head of space-station security on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

“I am all of those characters, and I love that,” Auberjonois said in a 2011 interview with the Star Trek website. “I also run into people, and they think I’m their cousin or their dry cleaner. I love that, too.”

Auberjonois was born in New York in 1940, the son of Fernand Auberjonois, a Swiss-born foreign correspondent for US newspapers, and the grandson of a Swiss post-impressionist painter also named René Auberjonois.

René Auberjonois as Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.



René Auberjonois as Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Photograph: BBC TWO

The younger René Auberjonois was raised in New York, Paris, and London, and for a time lived with his family in an artists’ colony in Rockland County, New York, whose residents included the actors John Houseman, Helen Hayes and Burgess Meredith.

After graduating from college at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon, Auberjonois hopped around the country joining theatre companies, eventually landing three roles on Broadway in 1968, including playing the Fool in a long-running version of King Lear.

The following year he would play Sebastian Baye opposite Katharine Hepburn in Coco, a play on the life of designer Coco Chanel that would earn him a Tony for best actor in a leading role in a musical.

In 1970, Auberjonois began his run with Altman, playing Mulcahy in M*A*S*H*
In his most famous exchange from the movie, Houlihan wonders how such a degenerate doctor as Hawkeye Pierce could reach a position of responsibility in the US Army. The bible-reading Auberjonois responds, deadpan: “He was drafted.”

“I actually made that line up when we were rehearsing the scene,” Auberjonois said. “And it became a kind of an iconic line for the whole film.”

The same year he played an off-the-wall ornithologist in Altman’s Brewster McCloud, a saloonkeeper alongside Warren Beatty in McCabe & Mrs. Miller in 1971 and appeared in Altmans Images in 1972.

He spent much of the rest of the 1970s doing guest spots on TV shows before joining the cast of Benson in its second season in 1980, where he would remain for the rest of the shows seven seasons, playing the chronic hypochondriac Endicott.

Much of his later career was spent doing voices for animation, most memorably as the French chef who sings the love song to fish-killing Les Poissons in The Little Mermaid.

He played Odo on Deep Space Nine from 1993 until 1998 and became a regular at Star Trek conventions, where he raised money for Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders, and signed autographs with a drawing of Odo’s bucket, where the character would store himself when he returned to his natural gelatinous state.

René Auberjonois with Susannah York in the 1972 film Images.



René Auberjonois with Susannah York in the 1972 film Images. Photograph: Lions Gate/Hemdale/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock



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