In a more enlightened age, Majel Barrett Roddenberry might have rated a Federation command. As it was, she helped rule the Star Trek universe.
Roddenberry, the actress whose best-known role was the wife and, later, widow of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, died today at her Bel-Air, Calif., home, Roddenberry.com said. The reported cause of death was leukemia.
Billed through much of her acting career as Majel Barrett, the dark-haired Roddenberry played Dr. McCoy's blonde, beehived assistant, Nurse Chapel, on the original 1966-69 Trek series. She also supplied the voice of the USS Enterprise's computer—a service she continued to provide through the franchise's various offshoots, including J.J. Abrams' upcoming big-screen reboot, Star Trek.
As prominent as those roles were, Roddenberry very nearly played a much larger one.
In the original Trek pilot, shot in 1964, Roddenberry was Number One, the Enterprise's No. 1-ranking officer after its then-captain, Christopher Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter). Number One was smart, competent, and just so happened to be a woman, not to mention a brunette. The network executives at NBC balked—truth be told, they weren't big fans of the weird-looking guy with the pointy ears, either.
To get his show on the air, Gene Roddenberry consented to lose Number One. But he kept the actress on as Nurse Chapel, albeit a much lower-profile role, and married her portrayer in December 1969. In a final twist to the suits, he gave Number One's old job to the weird-looking guy with the pointy ears, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy).
Majel Barrett Roddenberry reprised Nurse Chapel for brief appearances in 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 1986's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. She played the recurring role of Counselor Deanna Troi's mother on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Gene Roddenberry died in 1991 at the age of 70.
After his passing, Majel Barrett Roddenberry helped bring alive one of his pet projects in the form of the 1997-2002 series Earth: Final Conflict but said she had nothing to do with running the at-times-flailing Trek ship.
"Gene sold out all of his rights to Star Trek way back 15, almost 20 years ago," she told SciFiDimensions.com in 2000. "So, they ask nothing. I volunteer nothing. They invite me to a few of their shindigs. I'll bet you I haven't been on that lot in two years."
Still, Roddenberry welcomed the recent digital remastering of the original series and Abrams' theatrical take, seeing them as validations of her husband's legacy.
"What's nice is you know a Star Trek movie is still one that everybody wants," she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2006.
In a statement today on Roddenberry.com, her son, Eugene Roddenberry Jr., said his mother appreciated the role fans played in keeping the Trek franchise running for 40-plus years.
"It was her love for the fans, and their love in return," he said, "that kept her going for so long after my father passed away."