Iconic Star Trek Villain Actor Dead At 94

By Zack Zagranis | Published

William O’Connell, best known for playing Thelev the Orion in Star Trek: The Original Series, died at his home in Sherman Oaks, CA on Monday, January 15. The 94-year-old actor was a mainstay of Clint Eastwood’s early films, where he was often cast as a bad guy. The cause of O’Connell’s death is currently unknown.

William O’Connell’s Early Roles Included Appearances In Series Like The Twilight Zone

William O’Connell began his acting career with guest roles in a number of early television shows. The LA native appeared on shows as varied as the detective series Peter Gunn, sitcom Dennis the Menace, and the science fiction anthology The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. Most of the actor’s roles consisted of 1 episode stints on the most popular television series of the day.

Close Relationship With Clint Eastwood

Occasionally, William O’Connell would score a second episode, such as his two appearances on Quincy M.E. It was a two-episode stint on the series Rawhide that introduced O’Connell to fellow actor Clint Eastwood. The friendship the two actors forged on Rawhide would result in Eastwood putting O’Connell in several of his early movies, including Paint Your Wagon, High Plains Drifter, and The Outlaw Josey Wales.Throughout his long career, the actor racked up a total of 70 roles spread alternating between television and film. His last onscreen role was in 1991. O’Connell ended his career playing a priest in the made-for-tv haunted house movie The Haunted

Thelev In Star Trek

Of all the roles William O’Connell played, however, the one he is best known for today is that of Thelev, a member of the Orion species posing as an Andorian in the 1967 Star Trek episode “Journey to Babel.” The Season 2 episode of the classic Trek series featured a number of bickering diplomats hitching a ride on the Enterprise on their way to a conference. When one of the diplomats is murdered, it’s discovered that O’Connell’s Thelev is behind it.

William O’Connell’s Villain Appeared In One Of The Best Trek Episodes

“Journey to Babel” is such an iconic episode of Star Trek that TV Guide ranked episode #5 on its list of the ten best Star Trek episodes. The list was part of TV Guide’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of the original Star Trek in 1996. This was partially due to the phenomenal performance William O’Connell gave as Thelev.

O’Connell’s prosthetics for the episode—blue face paint and Shrek-like antennas protruding from a head of snow-white hair—has become one of Star Trek’s most iconic images. The Andorians are up there with the Gorn as the most famous original series aliens, and Thelev is one of the most famous Andorians…even if he was later found out to be an Orion in disguise.

Remembering William O’Connell

William O’Connell was born May 12, 1929, in Los Angeles. Prior to his acting career, O’Connell served in the Korean War as a 1st lieutenant in the 45th Infantry. O’Connell was highly decorated during his military career, earning several honors, including the prestigious Bronze Star for heroic achievement. The actor was a very private person, and it’s currently unknown whether he had a spouse or is survived by any relatives. His death was announced by a family friend.Source: Deadline