I’m still wrapping my head around this one. I’ve cried, but not nearly enough. I was out on a Facebook group a few days after René died (sorry, but I could never connect with the term “passed”; it’s too much like we just missed each other in a crowd), where someone had posted something kind of nasty about him, clearly without ever having met the man. I retorted rather — ahem — vehemently. I got a rude sort of “How the f — — do you know any differently?” comment. I gave an encapsulated response that hopefully made the original poster skulk away in shame (I never got a reply, so I don’t know), and over the past several weeks I have so wanted to talk about René and how nice he really was, and about what he meant to me — I just couldn’t figure out where. But I finally sat down and listened to the Trek Geeks podcast from January 22 and realized that I could talk about him with the lovely group of fans on their Facebook page. Seeing the response there, I thought I might also share things here, because I want everyone to know what a genuine, upstanding human being he was.
We first met when I went to Los Angeles for a TREK convention. I knew René was going to be there, and I was already hooked up with his fan club, which was throwing a small party at the hotel which René would be attending. Now, this doesn’t mean that I was entirely looking forward to meeting him, because, as a theatre major back in the day, I had met a few actors and theatre professionals who were extremely disappointing as human beings. So I was half-eager, half-apprehensive as party time approached, and as we set up a computer and connected it to the web so we could show René “his” website, the “René Auberjonois Internet Link.” (Insert screechy modem sound here.)
So René arrived, and he was charming to everyone. He peeked rather hesitantly over my shoulder at the computer screen, and I clicked through to a few items before I offered him my seat and the chance to surf around himself. His response was what one might expect if he had been offered a box full of spiders. He leapt backwards halfway across the room, saying, “No! You do it!!” At the time it didn’t feel particularly funny, but I’ve laughed every time that I’ve thought about it since then.
Anyway, it was a lovely party, and René hung out with us for a nice long while, asking questions about the website and about us and generally just being a great guy. That was pretty much it. I finally mastered the pronunciation of “Auberjonois” before flying home to Chicago. The website had received René’s blessing, although he hadn’t looked at it after I scared him with the offer to take over the mouse.
Well, a month or two later, I got an email from an AOL user who claimed to be René. He told me how a friend was visiting him who had gotten him to sit down and check out renefiles.com. It was a lovely letter, full of kudos. Skeptic that I am, I was doubtful of its authenticity. So I contacted the president of René’s fan club, since I knew that she and he kept in touch via email and she would know if it was him.
Turned out it was. I’m pretty sure I did some old school fangirl squealing.
I finally replied to René’s email, explaining the delay due to my “trust but verify” stance on all things internet. And that was the beginning of a fun correspondence and what for me was a wonderful friendship. We talked about a lot of things, many having nothing to do with DS9, a lot having to do with René getting his own computer (a Mac) and learning how it worked. There was a good deal of tech support (that’s what I did back then), and some steering through social media. I was a moderator on the AOL STAR TREK message boards at the time, and swept in to delete a post he had made and then panicked about once he realized that his user name would be out there to be seen by all and sundry. I then lied to the other moderators, who knew that I had René’s AOL user name, assuring them that it was an imposter.
So we talked about acting, and we talked about computers, and we talked about the time one of his dogs killed the next door neighbors’ cat. He told me about the home he and his wife, Judith, were building in Northern California. He wrote me the reference that got me a job where I stayed for 15 years. (“You should be so lucky!” he told them. Bless him!) We got to meet up at the occasional convention. We never discussed my Odo/Kira fanfic (for which I am deeply grateful). I finally managed to collect a few autographs, and he would occasionally send me a drawing, plus once he sent me his “face,” which he pulled off at the end of a day’s work when he was filming the final DS9 episode, “What You Leave Behind.” The mask is an interesting thing, if kind of creepy. It now resides in a nice purple box. What I value far more is the note that accompanied it, and the friendship that prompted it.
Like many correspondences, ours waned as we both moved on to different things, but we still connected from time to time. We last saw each other in the summer of 2016, when René was here to do a convention — I wasn’t attending the con, but a small group of us hung out together for a bit in one of those hotel hallway seating areas. When the visit was over, René walked me to my car, gave me and my wife a hug (she was sitting in the car by the curb because she refused to pay the exorbitant parking fee), and waved as we pulled away. His day was packed, his weekend was packed, but he made time to do that. I’ll never forget that last meeting. I doubt I’ll forget any of them. I wish the meetings had been more frequent, had been longer, that I had taken him up on the invite to visit him at home, that I had said more about how much I appreciated him and valued his friendship. I wish that he knew how much we all loved him, because we did. I did. And I still can’t believe that he’s gone.
I apologize if this has seemed like nothing but self-serving blather or maudlin meandering. It wasn’t meant to be. I just needed to tell someone — anyone — everyone — how much René meant to me. To tell everyone that he was as wonderful a person as he was an actor. Because he was.
It was discussed in the podcast how René gave all of the proceeds from his autograph and drawing sales to Doctors Without Borders. What people may not know is that this was the reason why he kept doing conventions as long as he did — because it enabled him to give further help to something he believed in. He thought about giving up the cons, but he couldn’t give up the chance to be of use to a worthy cause.
If you haven’t seen them, go back and read René’s Twitter posts during the month or so leading up to his death. They read like a testament, a testament to what he believed and what he wanted to share with all of us before he left the stage. There are a lot of them, but the following quote was one of the first.
He headed this quote with the words, “Don’t forget…”
“I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment?” — Epictetus
Goodbye, old friend. Meet you on the flip side.