It was Tuesday afternoon on Feb 7 that I got the news. A friend instant messaged me on Facebook to share a link, an online article announcing that Richard had passed on. I think I skipped all the traditional phases of mourning and went straight to sadness. With a few days having gone by, and the news being confirmed that Richard succumbed to a battle with pancreatic cancer, I thought I would join in the legion of fans and friends that have put pen to paper to record their remembrances of him.
What's most interesting to note about all of the comments, posts and write-ups I have read is that they all echo the same sentiments, and the same things that I have to say. That Richard was the NICEST man. That he was always generous with his time and attention. That he was a great friend. That he was a good guy. That he was one of the gems of the convention scene, and sci-fi fandom. ConDad. So Say We All. Lifetime Fan.
Nobody has posted any half hidden, back handed compliments that you often see when someone has a dark side that nobody really wants to address after their passing. Everything everyone has to say is nothing but positive. And that's how I remember him to. He was one of the nicest, most sincere, friendliest people I have ever had the good fortune to call a friend. I will miss him dearly, and my greatest lament is that of the missed opportunities to spend time with him over the past year or so as his health must have been deteriorating. I hope that when/if I grow up, I can have the same type of temperament and personality that Richard had.
My head is swimming with memories and fun times that he and I shared over the past couple of years, and I'm writing them down here not only to share them with others, but really just to document them for my own purposes. I'm sure one day my memory of the past few years will grow dim, and I'd prefer to not lose hold of the good memories I have of Mr. Hatch.
When I and my family first moved to America, I was of course wrapped up in the whole Star Wars craze that was sweeping the globe. And like most kids of that age, I was hungry for more, and pretty much anything would do. Which is where Battlestar Galactica really hit the mark. It was a big budget-looking tv show that filled that gap between the next Star Wars movie and the low end of the spectrum that was sci-fi tv of the time. I cannot say with certainty if I saw BSG on tv during its initial run, or if it was in re-runs. I enjoyed the show, but at the time it didn't hold sway over me like Star Wars did. I had a couple Colonial Viper ships, and a Cylon Raider, and they received equal play time among my Star Wars toys. Even at that age, my little brain felt a certain "wrongness" of blending one sci-fi universe with another, and was even more distraught by the different scales of the action figures. I was also too young to really understand many of the bits of political and social commentary that the show was trying to espouse. I was all about the space battles and killing cylons. Which is what made Richard Hatch and his portrayal of Apollo so fun. He was one of the iconic heroes of the show. Everything a leading man should be, and very inspirational to viewers of the show.
Flash forward a few decades. The BSG reboot is on the air, and despite an internet full of initial skepticism and fear, the show turns out to be rock solid. Many would argue better than the original, though in different ways. What the original had in charm and camaraderie between fighter pilots, the new one triumphed in character development, political intrigue, and the overwhelming sense of terror this last band of humans suffered from on a moment-to-moment basis. As with the original, I watched when I could, but I wouldn't describe myself as a die-hard fan. I didn't collect the props or make any of the costumes, I just enjoyed it and watched. It was big news when Richard Hatch joined the cast and took on the role of Tom Zarek. I remember at the time thinking how awesome it was that that actor had found new work on a reboot of his original show. I thought that was extremely graceful of the new shows producers, and showed great respect to the show of the past. I would say my closest involvement with nuBSG came at this time, when I served as a model for a line of costume replicas being put out by Anovos. This just serves as a weird example of the intersect of me and BSG, I suppose.
At the time, I was living in Ohio on a work gig, and some local friends invited me to join them at a small, local con called "Ohayocon." A fellow Ohioan named Geoffrey Gay and an LA friend Thom Parham were part of a nuBSG costuming group who had set up a table there to help promote their club and get new members. The offer was I could get a free pass to the con if I worked the table for a while during the event. Of course, I was on aboard. As luck would have it, Geoff had an entire library of BSG costumes of his own, and offered to lend me one to wear during the event. It was a flight deck hand, or something. One of the orange jump suits. The con was a good time, and a nice little affair, and best of all allowed me to spend some time hanging out with Geoff and Thom and catching up with fellow attendees. Our table was set up right outside one of the panel rooms, and in the middle of the first day, we figured out that Richard Hatch was going to be hosting a panel in that very room. Something about Tom Zarek's view on government or something like that. As the hour approached, Richard was walking into the hall and stopped by the booth to check out the table and said "Great Costumes!" before heading in to give his panel. I thought that was pretty cool. I am not AT ALL one to get star struck, and nor was I at that moment. I just thought it was cool that the guy who was running a few minutes late for his panel took a minute out of his day to acknowledge some folks who were clearly dedicated fans of a property he was deeply involved with. I'm sure that my friends were too.
Flash forward to Dragon Con a year or so later, and Hatch is everywhere. It was then I started to realize that Richard was a fixture in the con circuit, and was deeply loved. He was the guy that would put on your replica Viper Pilot jacket that you brought to him to sign, and then he would ask if he could wear it for the rest of the day. He would get into heated debates with fans about choices his character had made. He would accept ANY and all thumb war challenges. The best way I can describe it is this: if you're a fan, and you've built up in your mind what it would be like to meet the actor who played Apollo in real life... you will not be disappointed. He's a fans dream. Courteous, polite, friendly... awesome.
I have a vague memory of him sitting a few stools down from me at a bar in the Marriott one night, and I thought it was pretty wild that he was one of the con guests who was out mingling with the muggles, without fear of being mobbed. Maybe it was because he was so approachable and friendly that nobody felt the need to scramble after him for an autograph... because they knew he would be there tomorrow to sign their photos and take a selfie with them.
A couple of years later, I had written a sci-fi short film that I was Executive Producer on. We were making a live action video game adaptation of the game "Loadout" for Machinima. By this time, Richard was heavily involved in the "Fan Film" scene which had really exploded, and small film makers like myself came to realize that recognizable talent could be roped into your film without too much trouble. It's like the whole industry system was collapsing, and all kinds of great collaborative opportunities were becoming available. I thought Richard would be great for the part I had written, as he possessed not only the age and physicalities of the character I had in mind, but based on the body of his work I had witnessed, I felt he was more than capable of pulling it off.
A friend put together a meeting for me and the director of this short film, and we all met up at the Aroma Coffee & Tea in Studio City. I don't know what to say other than I was immediately struck by just how nice he was. Here I was, an absolute nobody in the film industry, whose primary accomplishment are a bunch of dopey youtube videos and a few shorts for Machinima, and I was having a conversation with a veteran actor whose work I respect ... and he was really excited! Very mind blowing. I pitched him on the story, described the character, and we were pretty much right away at work on it. For every assertion I made about the character I wanted him to play, named "Gaz" after a friend of mine from my University days, he had a follow up question for me. As he dug deeper into the motivations and ethos of the character, it was as if the character was coming to life right in front of me. It was a surreal experience. Richard said he wanted to see a copy of the script, and we exchanged email addresses.
The next few months were great. We had costume fittings, a table read at my apartment with the entire cast, and just loads of fun and creative awesomeness that culminated in a hectic 2 day shoot. We spent one day at the famous Laurel Canyon Stages, using their frequently filmed sets, and another up north at a sand and gravel depot. Richard was the consummate professional. He had his dialog down, and killed it EVERY take. I think he is a writer and directors dream. He gives you a take or two that are on script, then starts peppering in his own dialog. Or sometimes he'll deliver the dialog as written, then end on a line or two of improv. He was focused. He wasted nobody's time. He was already ready when he was needed on set, and was always available when he was not.
For me, the experience was beyond surreal. Months later, I described to Richard what it was like seeing Gaz come to life on set. I told him it was is if he had reached into my brain, and plucked out the vision I had in my head of who Gaz was. His intonations, his facial expressions, the way he carried himself and interacted with his ship and crew, Richard absolutely nailed it. He shared with me some of his process as an actor, and how he goes about finding the character. I don't know how he did it but it was pure magic to me.
And everyone loved him. I invited a few friends along to help out with the shoot, as you do. One was a big time BSG fan who I knew would be thrilled to spend a day on set with one of his heroes, and another was a friend from high school with whom I used to hope to one day make films with. One piece of feedback I kept getting time and time again from both cast and crew is that Loadout was the most fun they had ever had on a shoot. Richard really helped set that environment, not only by being such a great guy, but also being so supportive of the other craftspeople on the show.
Richard held acting classes at a workshop up in the valley, and had literally been doing it for decades. He was always quick to offer insight and guidance to actors wishing to learn from him, and this was evident on set. I feel like everyone learned something from Richard during the shoot. Whether it was how to be a better actor, or just how to be a spectacular person.
On the second day of shooting, I asked Richard if he would mind if I took a selfie to put up on the facebook page (the result of which is the first picture in this blog post), and he corrected me, saying it would be an "us-ie" as it includes more than just me in the photo. And thus a new term was born! My girlfriend Kristin joined us on set, and of course was also captured by Richards charm and friendliness. Richard had that very rare quality of having the perfect balance of charm without seeming sleezy. You KNEW he was being charming, but it never felt like he was being gross or even trying to pursue some agenda. He was just a damn charming dude, and he infected all of those around him with it.
Filming came and went far more quickly than I had hoped, but Richard and I stayed in touch. We would have goofy interactions on facebook that always made me laugh, and thought provoking txt message threads that always made me contemplate. One of my favorite facebook exchanges came shortly after filming, when I posted a picture of Richard and I to my feed. A couple of in-laws commented on the picture saying things like "oh man I had such a crush on him when I was younger" and another one suggested that the crush continued to this day. My response to both of them was something like "You do realize he is probably reading this right now, right?" and almost on cue, the next response was from Richard, with his signature battle cry of "Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" and assuring the ladies "I'll take whatever love I can get!!!!!".
That's the guy I knew him as. He was the friend who didn't treat fans like fans, but like friends. Even if you were one of those fall-on-your-face, lose-your-shit in his presence fans, he treated you like a friend. One that wanted to know what's been going on in your life, how you've been, and what you've been up to. And he treated friends like a valued treasure.
We had a couple more encounters after principle photography was complete, including a trip up to the valley to record a podcast to help promote the release of the film. We sat in about 90 minutes of traffic together to get there, and we talked about all kinds of stuff. Richard told me about how amazing it was to be on Classic BGS when it was on the air. About all the horrifically long hours he would work each week, and then having it all be justified when his paycheck showed up. I may be misquoting him, but I think at the time he was one of the highest paid actors on television, if only because of the sheer number of golden hours he would rack up each week. The wrap party for Loadout was great, and it was a thrill again to see Richard interacting with so many of my friends.
We also had a party at Machinima and did a live stream play of the game that served as inspiration for the short. At the party, someone challenged Richard to a game of ping-pong, as there happened to be a table in the middle of the office. I thought to myself, "Oh man, I gotta get in on this action!" and then I saw Richard play and backed right the hell down. Turns out Richard is like some kind of grand master at both ping-pong AND thumb wars, though doubtfully at the same time.
I attended a screening of another project he worked on, "Cowboys & Engines" which also starred Walter Koenig. During the Q&A, it was great to see yet another set of filmmakers taking pride in having Richard be a part of their project, and I could tell that they enjoyed working with him as much as I did.
With each convention Kristin and I attended, Richard was always there as a guest, and always seemed as happy to see us as we were to see him. We would religiously pose for an "us-ie" and post it to our social media accounts immediately. It was always great to hear what Richard had been up to, the new projects he was working on, or things he had in the works. He would often pull us close, and conspiratorially whisper to us some lurid tale from the past about his days as a youngster in hollywood, and assure us that that story wouldn't make it into his biography. Sometimes we would go out to dinner afterwards, sometimes we would get a drink, but it was always magical. Richard also introduced us to some amazing and talented people, many of whom I now consider friends.
A funny chapter came later, perhaps one of the last times we saw him. Richard was telling us all about this movie he was working on at the moment. He said "oh yeah it's going to be great. The female lead is John Dykstra's daughter" to which Kristin and I both replied "you mean Chloe??" and his eyes lit up! He was suddenly fascinated once again with what a small world it is, and how we are all connected through common friends. Kristin explained to a slack-jawed Hatch that she and Chloe were part of a costuming group a few years ago, which he found both fascinating and shocking.
One of the things that saddens me is the missed opportunities. I was looking back on my txt messages with Richard, and saw a couple times where he had asked if I wanted to join him for some bowling, or get together for a drink. And for one reason or another, I was busy, or unable to make it. I guess I always figured there would be another chance. I mean, come on... it's Richard Hatch! He's a scene-central guy! I was just like the people at Dragon Con who didn't swamp him at the bar, because I figured I could just see him the next time. There will always be another opportunity, right? Maybe next weekend. Maybe next con.
And then, just like that, with zero warning, there are no more opportunities.
In his last text to me, he asked me to congratulate Kristin on passing one of her exams, and told me how cool he thought my Batmobile project was. He told me to give Kristin his best. I replied telling him I would give her MY best. My next text was me wishing him a happy new year, and I never heard back.
Richard Hatch is the first friend I have lost in my life. I have known people who have died, and some of them at one time played a bigger role in my life than Richard did. But Richard's passing really hit me hard. Though not literally, I assumed he was invincible. He lived an amazing, full life. He must have spent most weekends at some convention, in some corner of the world, hanging out with fans and being the friendly ConDad that we all came to know and love, making them feel special, and being the childhood hero come to life that fans wish EVERY actor could be when you finally have the chance to meet them. From all of the friends I have whose lives were touched by Richard, be they friends, fans or co-workers, their thoughts, words and memories all align, leaving the world a much better place for them than before he came along.
And while I am sad that the world has lost this bright light, I'm beyond thrilled that I got to enjoy his company before the opportunity passed altogether. And even for those chances that were missed, I'm thrilled for the ones that were not.
You will be missed, good sir.