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Ron Glass, 1945 - 2016
Actor Ron Glass has died at the age of 71. To SF fans, he was Shepherd Book on Firefly and Serenity. To those who watched TV in the '70s and '80s he was Det. Ron Harris, NYPD, on Barney Miller. To thousands of young African-American actors he was a role model who appeared in over a dozen movies and too many TV roles to count.
Ronald Earle Glass was born July 10, 1945 in Evansville, Indiana. He died November 25, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. In the seven decades in between, he played such diverse roles as police officers, preachers, a demon, an angel, doctors, repairmen, knights in armor, and aliens.
Ron Glass in the '70s
Ron Glass made his first TV appearance in Sanford and Son in 1972. During the 1970s he had various guest shots in such shows as All in the Family, Maude, Hawaii 5-0, Good Times, and The Streets of San Francisco. He played the Black Knight on Mel Brooks' When Things Were Rotten and an elevator repairman on The Bob Newhart Show.
He also appeared in several made-for-TV movies: Beg, Borrow, or Steal, Let's Switch!, Change at 125th Street, and Foster and Laurie. He was in the theatrical release movie The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder.
Detective Sergeant Ronald N. Harris
Ron Glass had his big break in 1975, when he was cast as Det. Sgt. Harris on Barney Miller. He appeared in all 164 episodes of the show from 1975 to 1982. Detective Sergeant Ronald Nathan Harris was a dapper, urbane gentleman, a man willing to spend money on good tailoring. In addition to being a plainclothes police detective for the NYPD, Harris was a writer. Many episodes mentioned him writing and submitting stories. He wrote and appeared in a cameo role in a porn film ("Hitchcock does it!") that was made for a sting operation. He eventually managed to get a book published called Blood on the Badge. When the show ended, Harris announced that he was leaving the police force to become a full-time writer. Ron Glass was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as Ron Harris.
The bad brownies incident on BARNEY MILLER
Ron Glass in the '80s and '90s
Ron Glass played various roles in the 1980s and '90s. He played Felix Unger in The New Odd Couple, musician Don Phillips in Rhythm & Blues, teacher Ronald Felcher in Mr. Rhodes, and God's cousin Rod in Teen Angel. He had semi-regular roles in Friends, Amen, and 227, as well as many guest roles in Hart to Hart, Murder, She Wrote, The Royal Family, and Designing Women. He also did voice work during this time for Rugrats, Aladdin, Superman, and Sound of Sunshine - Sound of Rain He appeared in a handful of movies including Houseguest, It's My Party, Deal of a Lifetime, and Gus Brown and Midnight Brewster.
Ron Glass in the 21st Century
In the 21st century, Ron Glass had several guest starring roles in various TV shows, playing judges, lawyers, and doctors, including a recurring role on Shark. He did some voice work in cartoons (Rugrats: All Grown Up!, The Proud Family, Recess: School's Out) and video games (Fable II, Ancient Space). He made a few movies, including the reboot of Death at a Funeral. But the role that brought him back to the attention of audiences world-wide was co-starring in Firefly.
Ron Glass had several science fiction roles in the 21st century, from playing an alien doctor on Star Trek: Voyager to Captain Grenman in Strange Frame to joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe by playing Phil Coulson's doctor in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But his biggest science fiction role was as Shepherd Book in the TV show Firefly and the movie Serenity.
His career was revived on Joss Whedon's Firefly, playing the enigmatic cleric, Shepherd Derrial Book. Shepherd Book left the monastery, having decided to wander amongst mankind for a while, and took passage on the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity. Although a shepherd, a man of God, he had a surprising range of knowledge and skills. He knew a lot about crime, weapons, scripture, Alliance military strategy and tactics, cooking, espionage, gardening, and philosophy. He refused to reveal his past, but proved a good friend to Captain Mal Reynolds and the crew of Serenity.
I've been out of the abbey two days. I've beaten a lawman senseless. Fallen in with criminals. I watched the captain shoot the man I swore to protect. And I'm not even sure if I think he was wrong.
You don't fix the Bible... It's not about making sense. It's about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It's about faith. You don't fix faith, River. It fixes you.
Shepherd Book and the Special Hell, FIREFLY
Ron Glass in Science Fiction and Fantasy
TV Show or Movie
"I of Newton," TWILIGHT ZONE
"Bad Moon Rising," ALADDIN
"Blast from the Past," SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
the Angel Rod
"Nightingale," STAR TREK: VOYAGER
Philo D. Grenman
Dr. J. Streiten
"Pilot" & "The Magical Place," AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
Col. Edwards & Prof. Risseau
I of Newton, from TWILIGHT ZONE
Obituaries for Ron Glass
Most obituaries for Ron Glass focused on his role as Det. Sgt. Ron Harris of the NYPD's 12th Precinct. My obituary for Krypton Radio focused on Shepherd Book, because Krypton Radio is a science fiction-based website. One British obituary didn't even mention Barney Miller; one reader suggested (and I agreed) that the writer was probably too young to remember the show.
The New York Times' obituary
The L. A. Times' obituary