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Star Wars, James Bond and Thunderbirds Star Shane Rimmer Passes Away at 89

Steve Palace
Getty Images

The actor Shane Rimmer has passed away aged 89. Arriving in England from Canada in the late Fifties, he started life as a cabaret singer and enjoyed a long career which spanned over half a century. He appeared in major movie franchises such as Star Wars, James Bond and Batman.

However, to generations of fans he will always be the voice of Scott Tracy in Thunderbirds. Produced between 1964-66, the series famously used elaborate puppets instead of actors to depict the heroes of International Rescue and their array of world-saving vehicles. These marionettes were part of an approach dubbed “Supermarionation”.

The brainchild of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (who voiced character Lady Penelope), Thunderbirds was arguably their biggest hit. In a 2015 interview for the site Sci-Fi Fantasy Network he said, “For Thunderbirds, he (Anderson) had heard my voice on a BBC series, and thought it might suit Scott Tracy. You still had to come in and put your voice down on audition, which happened, and two weeks later I got a call asking would I like to do the part… I thought it was going to be quite a brief exercise, but that was fifty years ago!”

Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson

Rimmer also contributed to other Anderson series, notably Stingray and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. He wrote scripts as well as lending his voice. When the company made live-action shows like UFO (1970) and Space: 1999 (1975 – 77) he appeared in front of the camera. He had a shot at playing the lead in an Anderson pilot called Space Police in 1986, but the show was reworked as Space Precinct in the mid-Nineties. He was replaced by Ted Shackleford.

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Scott Tracy – the pilot of every child’s dream ride Thunderbird 1 – played a massive part in his success and he looked back fondly on the experience. “Gerry always insisted that we record in a circle with one big central mic,” he revealed to the Washington Times in a 2017 interview. “He said, ‘You’re out in space, for God’s sake. You don’t have all the conveniences. Act like it!’ I think that worked. Usually in situations like that you have individual cubicles. Somebody does their bit in cubicle A, somebody else in B, another in cubicle C. This was all together.”

Billboard for the 1989 production of the stage show tribute Thunderbirds: F.A.B. at London’s Apollo Photo by Theatre Bachcell -CC BY-SA 3.0

Billboard for the 1989 production of the stage show tribute Thunderbirds: F.A.B. at London’s Apollo Photo by Theatre Bachcell -CC BY-SA 3.0

Thunderbirds hit the big screen in two movies, Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1968). Rimmer went beyond the world of puppets and strings to gadgets and girls, featuring in 3 Bond films – You Only Live Twice (1967) Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). He also lent his vocals to Live and Let Die (1973). Aside from actors playing recurring roles he is the performer to have appeared most in the franchise.

Speaking about his part in Stars Wars Episode IV (1977), he commented, “They were doing one phase of the picture up there with a small unit while the main unit was downstairs doing the main action. It never stopped. [George] Lucas was a kind of a genius that he could keep all this sort of thing in hand.”

Stars Wars Episode IV (1977)Getty Images

Stars Wars Episode IV (1977)Getty Images

On the small screen, he acted in Doctor Who (1966’s The Gunfighters) and played two characters in British soap opera Coronation Street in the Sixties and Eighties respectively.

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In the twenty-first century, he played a small but prominent role as a water technician in Batman Begins (2005). He never lost his association with Gerry Anderson. After Anderson’s death he worked with son Jamie, most recently on “Ultramarionation” pilot Firestorm.

A cause of death has so far not been mentioned. Anderson Entertainment made a Twitter statement, saying his death had come “as a real shock” before going on to say they would be “celebrating Shane’s amazing life and career” in a podcast.