For many fans of Babylon 5, the departure of Michael O’Hare (who played the Commander Jeffrey Sinclair on the J. Michael Straczynski created series) was a huge blow to a syndicated series that faced an uncertain future during its five year run. Some felt it odd, considering how much groundwork was being laid on Sinclair –both during the shows first season and what had been established before the shows start. Sinclair seemed to be important cog within JMS long-term, five year arc.
But in 1994, after the first season had wrapped, it was announced that O’Hare would not return for season two, and Bruce Boxleitner was announced as O’Hare’s replacement (albeit, a different character). At the time, the reason for his departure was explained as creative and that O’Hare –who spent a good portion of his acting career in the theater- wanted to return to the stage, that the rapid aspect of TV filming was something he could not adjust to.
But at this weekend’s Phoenix ComicCon, Straczynski spoke about O’Hare (and three other cast members who’ve passed since the shows end) and revealed a secret that he’s kept for 19 years, that O’Hare’s struggled with a severe mental illness and had asked to be replaced. While others on the series knew little of his fight, Straczynski said he was willing to shut down production until he got better, but O’Hare said no, averse to the idea that other people should be forced out of a job until he could get better. The actor eventually returned for a single episode in season two and completed the character’s arc in a 2-part episode during season three.
Both O’Hare and Straczynski kept a pact saying that the reason for his departure would be taken to his grave, after that, the truth could be revealed. O’Hare died in September of last year following a massive heart attack at the age of 60 and this has been the first time since the actors passing that Straczynski has talked about it.
He also talked about Richard Biggs, Andreas Katsulas and Jeff Conway, who left us in 2004, 2006 and 2011 respectively. Biggs, Straczynski revealed, was almost entirely deaf and that he had to learn not only his own lines, but the lines of everyone else in his scene. He would read his colleagues' lips to know when it was his turn to speak. Straczynski said that Katsulas faced cancer "with a grace and courage I’m still in awe of to this day." Katsulas, near the end of his life, called for a "last supper" with Straczynski and they talked and laughed through the night. "Tell me all the dirt. Tell me all the shit that went down behind the scenes that we never knew about. Who am I going to tell?"
According to Straczynski, Jeff Conaway took responsibility for his failing career and difficult life situation that brought him to audition for a small "day" role for Babylon 5. "He came in knowing he was starting over again," Straczynski said. As Conaway was leaving the audition he turned to Straczynski and, "Give me a chance to do this … I’ll make you proud." It took some lobbying before he became a regular, but Stracynski developed a deep respect for Conaway.