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Remembering Stephen Furst for His Unsung Hero in BABYLON 5

This past Friday, veteran actor Stephen Furst passed away in his home from diabetes complications. Furst was 63 years old, and he was perhaps best known for his role as Kent “Flounder” Dorfman in National Lampoon’s Animal House and its TV spinoff, Delta House. Additionally, Furst had a lengthy stint on St. Elsewhere as Dr. Elliot Axelrod and co-starred in the comedy series Misery Loves Company. In animation, Furst lent his voice to Freakazoid!, The Little Mermaid 2, and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.

Today, we’re paying tribute to Furst for his best role: Vir Cotto in Babylon 5. During the ’90s, J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 was an unusually ambitious sci-fi series that embraced serialized storytelling while creating a five season “novel for television.” The titular space station was the focal point of several intergalactic conflicts and “the last, best hope for peace.” Within the series, Vir was an aide to Babylon 5’s Centauri Ambassador, Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik).

Stephen Furst as Vir in Babylon 5 photo 2

Londo’s fall from grace was one of the most important storylines of the series, as he was seduced by the promise of power for himself and the restoration of the Centauri empire. It was a very compelling and complex arc, and initially, Vir served his purpose as Londo’s conscience. Vir saw his mentor and friend falling into darkness, and he did everything that he could to turn him away from that path. Slowly but surely, that changed Vir from a passive character into one of the show’s most heartfelt creations.

When the Centauri brutally conquered the Narn and committed acts of genocide against them, Vir finally came into his own. He wasn’t the kind of character who could heroically save the day with his fists or a gun. Instead, Vir’s heroism came from his refusal to do nothing in the face of evil. He defied the will of his people, Londo, and even his own family by setting up an underground railroad that allowed Narn refugees to escape their occupied world. Vir saved thousands of Narns before his actions were discovered. Vir also became more bold in his interactions with Morden (Ed Wasser), the man who helped steer Londo to the Shadows, as seen in this fan favorite scene from the second season.

Despite his differences with Londo, Vir was a loyal friend and he aided Londo’s plan to assassinate the insane Centauri Emperor and help free the Narn once and for all. However, Vir was forced to commit the assassination himself, and he was devastated by what he had done. Even though he despised the Emperor, he still had his compassion. As his people faced their own annihilation, Vir was also given the chance to get exactly what he wanted from Morden.

Vir’s role continued to grow as the series continued into its fourth and fifth seasons. Eventually, Vir was named the new Centauri ambassador of Babylon 5 and he succeeded Londo as emperor during the 20 year gap between the regular series and the final episode. Through it all, Vir maintained his decency and his soul. He was an everyman who rose to the occasion, which was a refreshing change of pace for the genre. It would have been easy for Vir to simply ignore what needed to be done, but he proved that his heart was greater than any darkness. Furst’s portrayal of Vir’s heroism felt genuine and heartfelt, and we’ll always remember him for that.

What are your thoughts on Furst’s performance as Vir? Let us know in the comment section below.

Images: Warner Bros. TV

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