This past weekend was a huge one for Babylon 5. The show is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and show creator J. Michael Straczynski reunited onstage with most of the surviving main cast at Phoenix Comicon, joining together to fondly remember the show, and honor the friends they’ve lost over the years, including actors Andreas Katsulas, Richard Biggs, and Jeff Conaway. Indeed, Babylon 5 has been marred by tragedy many times over the years since it wrapped up its run, but it turns out there was one sad tale even the most devoted fans didn’t know…until now.
Longtime B5 fans such as myself have always wondered if we new all the facts about Michael O’Hare’s departure from the show. He played Commander Jeffrey Sinclair during the show’s first season, but was replaced for season two and beyond by Bruce Boxleitner, in the role of Captain John Sheridan. There were rumors that Warner Bros. wanted a bigger star for the show, or that O’Hare wasn’t comfortable in the role, but it always seemed like we weren’t getting the whole story, that something was being held back.
The secret, kept by Straczynski for two decades and only revealed now after O’Hare’s 2012 death, is simply this: O’Hare was fighting a serious battle with mental illness, including delusions and paranoia. Because he loved the show, and the fans, he didn’t want his troubles to potentially derail the show just as it was finding its legs. So he soldiered on, made it through the end of the season, and moved on to get the help he needed. He asked Joe to keep that secret until, someday, he had passed away. And that’s precisely what Straczynski did.
Here’s JMS telling the story.
More than any other science fiction cast I can think of, Babylon 5 has been plagued by loss time and time again. It’s nice to find some small silver lining in one of those losses, with the truth of O’Hare’s departure finally revealing the true, admirable character of O’Hare, as well as Joe’s for keeping the secret so long.
Here’s to you, Michael.
You can watch the reunion panel in full right here.