Several people associated with the “Star Wars” universe have passed away from pancreatic cancer. Sadly, pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult types of cancer to treat. According to Scientific American, pancreatic cancer has such a deadly reputation because the cancer is often detected at a late stage, by which point it has often spread to other parts of the body. The same article from Scientific American notes that what ultimately causes death in many pancreatic cancer patients is actually liver failure, due to the pancreatic cancer metastasizing and causing tumors on the liver.
The American Cancer Society notes that while the underlying cause of pancreatic cancer is still unknown, risk factors such as exposure to tobacco smoke, having a family history of the disease, or having diabetes may all play a part in why this type of cancer develops in certain people and not others. There are two major names within the “Star Wars” universe who passed away after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. One was an actor, while another played a pivotal role on the crew behind the scenes. Here’s what you need to know:
‘Star Wars’ Cast Member William Hootkins (AKA Porkins) Died From Pancreatic Cancer in 2005
Actor William Hootkins, who played pilot Jek Porkins in “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope“, died of pancreatic cancer in 2005. According to his obituary in the Guardian, Hootkins was a Texas native, and a classmate of fellow actor Tommy Lee Jones. That same obituary notes that Hootkins had become a sensation on the London stage in the years before his death, thanks to his turn as Alfred Hitchcock in the stage play “Hitchcock Blonde”.
An obituary for Hootkins in the Dallas Morning News noted that the actor’s battle with the cancer that ultimately took his life was “courageous”. The same report noted that Hootkins requested donations in his honor be made to an organization close to his heart, the San Ignacio Lagoon Whale Conservation Fund. Hootkins’ love of whales was evidenced not just in his request for charitable aid, but also apparent in the projects he chose to pursue. Hootkins recorded an audiobook narration of “Moby Dick”, an offering praised by AudioFile. Their review of the audiobook noted, “William Hootkins, like a skilled conductor, creates a charmed reading that explodes with a symphony of contrasts.”
In the “Star Wars” universe, the character of Jek Porkins was a pilot who used the call sign “Red Six”. He was shot down and killed during the assault on the Death Star, aka the Battle of Yavin. While Porkins didn’t make it out of “Episode IV” alive, the character was given new life in a Marvel comics tie-in that explored what would happen if Jek Porkins and Biggs Darklighter went on vacation together.
‘Star Wars’ Crew Member Grant McCune Died From Pancreatic Cancer in 2010
You might not recognize his name, but if you’re a fan of “Star Wars”, you’ll almost certainly recognize his work. Visual effects artist Grant McCune was the man behind the spaceships that make “Star Wars” so engrossing. After all, without tiny model ships, there would be no epic space battles. And “Star Wars” without the space battles would be a very different movie, indeed. It wasn’t just “Star Wars” that got the benefit of McCune’s design skill. THR notes that McCune was nominated for an Oscar for his work on “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” in 1980.
Sadly, McCune passed in 2010 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Reuters reported that prior to his death from pancreatic cancer, the visual effects expert had worked on films like “Jaws”. The same Reuters article noted that McCune won an Oscar for his work on “Star Wars”, which he shared jointly with “Star Wars” colleagues John Stears, Richard Edlund, John Dykstra and Robert Blalack. IMDB‘s listing of the full cast and crew of “Star Wars” notes that McCune was not only the “chief model maker” for the production’s miniature and optical effects unit, but also had an uncredited role as a “Death Star Gunner”.
In a 2009 interview with Popular Mechanics, McCune shared a pro tip for aspiring model makers. When asked about the simplest way to make a model look better, McCune explained his recommended approach: “The first big thing is what we call surface excitement or surface enhancement. If you take a model of a 747, it’s pretty plain, it’s pretty homogeneous across the body. But if you look closely, there are really subtle differences in contrast, reflections, oil, grease spots, dents. We try to overdo that a bit.”
What Other Types of Cancer Have Impacted ‘Star Wars’ Actors Over the Years?
Sadly, many of those connected to “Star Wars” have passed away, and some of those deaths were tied to cancer. Perhaps most notable is the death of Peter Cushing, aka Grand Moff Tarkin, who died after a prolonged bout with prostate cancer. According to UPI, Cushing was ill for about a week prior to his death in hospice. Despite his passing, Cushing’s likeness would return to “Star Wars” in the form of a CGI-enhanced performance in “Rogue One”.
There’s also another notable case of pancreatic cancer among “Star Wars” insiders, though this particular LucasArts alum was involved with “Star Wars” games and not the films themselves. According to GamaSutra, game developer Mark Haigh-Hutchinson passed away in 2008 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Haigh-Hutchinson worked on games like “Star Wars: Dark Forces” and “Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire”.
Other “Star Wars” luminaries who passed on after being diagnosed with some form of cancer include producer Gary Kurtz and actor Christopher Malcolm. The Daily Mail reported that Kurtz passed away after a year-long battle with an undisclosed type of cancer at the age of 78. As for Christopher Malcolm, the Guardian’s obituary noted he passed after a battle with an unspecified type of cancer in 2014 at the age of 67. Malcolm, who was somtimes credited as “Christopher Malcom” according to IMDB, played the role of Rebel pilot “Zev” in “The Empire Strikes Back”. Scotland’s Herald also notes that “Empire Strikes Back” actor Michael Sheard’s death came after a cancer diagnosis. Sheard played the minor role of Admiral Ozzel (the Admiral that Vader “force chokes” during a viewscreen meeting) in “Empire Strikes Back”.