René Auberjonois, a prolific actor known for his roles in the TV shows Benson and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and his part in the 1970 film M * A * S * H *, died at the age of 79.
The actor died Sunday in his Los Angeles home from metastatic lung cancer, said his son Rèmy-Luc Auberjonois.
René Auberjonois worked constantly as a character actor in different golden ages, from the dynamic theater of the 60s to the cinematographic renaissance of the 70s up to the first period of network television in the 80s and 90s.
For fans of the cinema of the 70s, it was Father John Mulcahy, the military chaplain who played the role of real doctors in the antics of doctors in M.A.S.H. It was his first significant film role and the first of some for director Robert Altman.
For sitcom watchers of the 1980s, it was Clayton Runnymede Endicott III, the hopeless chief of staff in a governor’s residence in Benson, the ABC series whose main character was a butler played by Robert Guillaume.
And since then for science fiction fans of the 90s and convention attendees, it has been Odo, the Changeling that changes shape and head of security of the space station on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
“They are all those characters and I love it,” said Auberjonois in a 2011 interview with the Star Trek website. “I also meet people and they think I’m their cousin or their dry cleaners. I love it too.”
Auberjonois was born in New York in 1940, the son of Fernand Auberjonois, a foreign correspondent of Swiss origin for American newspapers, and the grandson of a Swiss post-impressionist painter named René Auberjonois.
The young René Auberjonois grew up in New York, Paris and London, and for a time lived with his family in an artist colony in Rockland County, New York, whose residents included actors John Houseman, Helen Hayes and Burgess Meredith.
After graduating from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, now Carnegie Mellon, Auberjonois jumped around the country joining theater companies, eventually getting three Broadway roles in 1968, including the role of the Fool in a longtime version of King Lear.
The following year he will play Sebastian Baye alongside Katharine Hepburn in Coco, a show about the life of the designer Coco Chanel that will earn him a Tony for best actor in a starring role in a musical.
In 1970, Auberjonois began his run with Altman, playing Mulcahy in M * A * S * H *
In his most famous exchange of the film, Houlihan wonders how such a degenerate doctor like Hawkeye Pierce can achieve a position of responsibility in the American army. The Auberjonois reading the Bible replies, impassively: “It has been drawn up”.
“I actually queued up when we were rehearsing the scene,” said Auberjonois. “And it became a kind of iconic line for the whole movie.”
The same year he played an unusual ornithologist in Altman’s Brewster McCloud, a saloonkeeper alongside Warren Beatty in McCabe and Mrs. Miller in 1971 and appeared in Altmans Images in 1972.
He spent most of the rest of the 1970s making guest commercials on TV shows before joining the cast of Benson in his second season in 1980, where he would remain for the rest of the shows for seven seasons, playing the chronic hypochondriac Endicott.
Much of his later career was spent as an animation voice, memorably as the French chef singing the love song to kill Les Poissons fish in The Little Mermaid.
He played Odo in Deep Space Nine from 1993 to 1998 and became a regular at Star Trek conventions, where he raised funds for Doctors Without Borders, also known as Doctors Without Borders, and signed autographs with a drawing of Odo’s bucket, where the character would retain himself when he returned to his natural gelatinous state.