Erik Bauersfeld wasn't the kind of actor you would normally find in a science fiction movie. He was a radio dramatist whose career was spent largely at Berkeley's KPFA. He worked there as director of drama and literature for 31 years, and it was during this time he made friends with people like the great sound designers Walter Murch and Randy Thom. Working with Thom on a radio project at Lucasfilm, Bauersfeld was asked to do some line readings for a couple of aliens in Return of the Jedi: Admiral Ackbar and Bib Fortuna. Fortuna's lines in Huttese are one thing, but Ackbar's "It's a trap!" has become an internet meme staple. Even though Bauerfeld wasn't credited on the movie fans found out who he was, and for years he received fan mail. He answered every piece.
He returned to the role of Ackbar in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but that would be his last turn as the Mon Calamari military leader - Erik Bauersfeld died today in Berkeley.
But don't cry for him. At 93 he had lived a hell of a life, and he died in the best conditions you can hope for - according to KPFA Randy Thom was holding his hand at the end. And the last words Bauersfeld heard came from the great poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Ferlinghetti is well known for his collection A Coney Island of the Mind, but he is also an immortal for his status not only as co-founder of City Lights Books and Publishing in San Francisco (one of the most important book stores in the history of the world, one could argue) but also his place in the Howl obscenity trial. Ferlinghetti was one of the people charged with obscenity for publishing Allen Ginsburg's Howl. The trial was a major victory for the First Amendment and artists throughout the country. Ferlinghetti is a seminal figure in the history of American letters.
And he was best pals with the guy who played Admiral Ackbar. And as Bauersfeld died Ferlinghetti was on the phone, reading him poetry. It's an amazing intersection of different aspects of American culture, both high and low, and an example of how the world is far richer and more surprising than we usually realize. It's pretty beautiful.