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May 16, 1918|
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
|Died||May 24, 1978
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
He appeared on Gunsmoke in 1959, Season 1, Episode 22,Twilight Zone (1960), Lawman (1962), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1965); Mission: Impossible and Bewitched (1966); Star Trek: The Original Series and Mannix (1968); Hawaii Five-0 (1970); Kung Fu (1974); and The Rockford Files (1977).
Life and career
The son of a renowned landscape painter of the same name, Garrett Atwater was born in Denver, Colorado. He served as head of the UCLA Sound Department before he began his acting career. His work teaching audio techniques led to a role in the student film A Time Out of War, a Civil War allegory that won the Oscar as best short film of 1954.
He began appearing often in television episodes, often as a primary guest star, even playing the title characters on episodes of such shows as The Millionaire, Meet McGraw, The Court of Last Resort, One Step Beyond (as Abraham Lincoln), Cheyenne (as George Armstrong Custer), The Rebel, Riverboat, and Empire.
By 1960, he had achieved enough stature to be named by host Rod Serling in the on-screen promo as one of the stars of the well-known CBS Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street". Atwater made six guest appearances on Perry Mason. In 1963, he played Ronald Hewes, the title character and murder victim, in "The Case of the Prankish Professor"; in 1964, he played attorney Karl Dickinson in "The Case of the Nervous Neighbor", and in 1965, he again played the title character and murder victim, Dr. Stuart Logan, in "The Case of the Cheating Chancellor". This flourishing period of television appearances coincided with some major supporting roles in low-budget movies; otherwise, film was an only occasionally fertile medium for him. Atwater also performed regularly on stage throughout his career.
In the mid-1960s, Atwater spent three years on the ABC soap opera General Hospital while he also made prime-time appearances, billing himself as "G.B." Atwater from 1963 to 1965, during a period in which he (like many other actors who had thrived on 1950s anthology series) was cast in supporting parts. However, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, Atwater was again scoring primary guest-star roles, particularly on fantasy and science fiction series - The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Night Gallery and Kung Fu — where his altered facial appearance suited his grim and sinister countenance. By the mid-1970s, he was relegated to featured television parts and small bits in movies, and he returned to UCLA to teach television and film sound production.
Atwater’s role as vampire Janos Skorzeny (pictured, far right) in the acclaimed TV thriller The Night Stalker (1972) made him a popular guest at 1970s fan gatherings that capitalized on the resurgence of classic horror during that decade.
Atwater was one of the few actors to portray a character from Mr. Spock's planet on Star Trek: The Original Series, portraying Surak, father of Vulcan philosophy, in the episode "The Savage Curtain". Atwater couldn't achieve the Vulcan salute naturally, so when he bids farewell in a medium shot, he has to first lower his arm so his hand is out of camera view as he pushes his fingers against his body to configure them properly.
Steroid use and death
Atwater's health history has been subject to much speculation. Early in his career, he used steroids heavily to add bulk to his six-foot-one-inch frame. Suffering from terminal cancer, he died on May 24, 1978 in Los Angeles, shortly after his 60th birthday, from a stroke.
At least two sources who were close to the actor believe the dramatic changes in his facial structure that started in the mid-1960s also resulted from steroid overuse, which is known to cause acromegaly. The bridge of his nose widened, his brow became very prominent (causing his eyes to appear more sunken), and his jaw line started to weaken. He appears to have also undergone extensive and intentional plastic surgery that included a facelift, eyelid surgery, and at least two dramatic rhinoplasties.
His final television role was as a gun fence in one scene on The Rockford Files in 1977, with Atwater's character "Roach" interviewed by star James Garner in closeup while he fed pigeons from a park bench.
- Star Trek - The Original Series, Vol. 39, Episodes 77 & 78: The Savage Curtain/All Our Yesterdays (1966), CBS Paramount Home Video liner notes
- Barry Atwater at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- Barry Atwater at the Internet Movie Database
- Barry Atwater at Find a Grave