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Jan 14, 2009

RICARDO MONTALBAN (a.k.a. KHHHAAAAANNNN) 1920-2009

"It was Khan! He put creatures in our ears...made us do tings."

This is one of those celebrity deaths that makes me sad. Ricardo Montalban's Khan Noonien Singh was one of the great screen villains, a character introduced in the original STAR TREK episode SPACE SEED to match wits with Captain James Tiberious Kirk (and probably the most dangerous figure ever to try and take over the Enterprise), then brought back on the big screen in all his pectoral glory in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (also one of my favorite film sequel titles).

I have seen STAR TREK II a ridiculous amount of times, and its staying power is really thanks to the presence of Montalban on screen. He is the one character that truly you truly felt gave Admiral Kirk a run for his money, and he really sold the anger and hatred and quest for vengeance of the character, so much so that it literally engulfed every inch of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio even when his character wasn't in the scene. It was one of my favorite movies growing up, and still is. I just recently saw it at a 70mm festival in West L.A. during the holidays, and the movie packs a wallop now 27 years after its original release.

Montalban wasn't only know as Khan of course. He starred in the TV series FANTASY ISLAND and DYNASTY II: THE COLBYS. His feature film work was extensive including: ESCAPE FROM and CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (his harboring of the talking ape Caesar resulted in the apes taking over the planet), SPY KIDS 2, SPY KIDS 3-D and THE NAKED GUN and not to mention a large amount of guest appearances in shows like WONDER WOMAN and HAWAII FIVE-O and plenty of animation voice work like in THE ANT BULLY, FREAKAZOID and more recent efforts like KIM POSSIBLE and even an episode of FAMILY GUY playing a cow.

I had the fortune to see Mr. Montalban in person on numerous occasions, all memorable. The first was at the Pasadena Grand Slam of Star Trek convention (yeah ok, I went to a Trek convention. So what?) where not only was he introduced by Kirk/William Shatner himself, but his opening line of how he had gone through several surgeries due to a nerve disease (he was in a wheelchair and looked mighty frail) and that our thunderous (and it was thunderous) standing ovation made him feel young again. I swear, many a geek teared up during that statement including this one. It definitely had us quoting Joachim when he told Khan before dying "Yours...is superior."

The second was when the TREK II was initially released on DVD (not the 2 disc director's cut that came out later, just the 1 disc no frills edition). It was at Universal City walk at Sam Goody and Montalban when coming out of the green room to see the line that snaked through the building and well down the Citywalk outside, raised his arms and yelled out "MY PEOPLE".

Next was at Paramount Studios where he and Nicholas Meyer introduced a special screening of THE WRATH OF KHAN in an event Paramount held for industry types to promote the upcoming release of the the 2-Disc Director's cut on DVD. Sitting in his wheelchair he gave some remembrances of making the movie, including answering the always asked question "was your chest really that big, or was it a prosthetic?" (it was real) and again was met with a standing ovation.

A friend of mine once stated when Pat Morita (a.k.a. Mr. Miyagi in THE KARATE KID died) that it truly brought his mortality into question since the character was someone memorable to him growing up, and his passing not only reminded him that he himself was aging, but also brought him to face his own mortality. I can say the same for Mr. Montalban, for it really is jarring when someone as tough and timeless who was icon in my youth and to me even now as that can pass away.

I think the best way to finish this is with Khan's final words to the Enterprise/Kirk as they were trying to flee right before the Genesis device detonated destroying the USS Reliant and killing him (and it is also a quote from chapter 135 of Herman Melville's immortal MOBY DICK which the filmmakers brilliantly worked into the plot of TREK II).

"From hell's heart I stab at thee. For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee"

RIP Ricardo Montalban

Oh and PS -- Patrick McGoohan, star of the cult 1960s series THE PRISONER also passed away today. Two big names in one day. McGoohan was also the evil king in BRAVEHEART.