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Quantum Leap Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Nearly three decades have passed since the NBC science fiction/drama series "Quantum Leap" (1989-1993) left the airwaves, and yet the six-time Emmy-winning program remains a fan and critical favorite. 

A great premise was unquestionably part of its appeal. The series, created by Donald P. Bellisario ("NCIS"), hinges on a scientist (played by Golden Globe winner and Emmy nominee Scott Bakula) who uses his time travel device to "leap" into the bodies of individuals in need throughout history and in turn, desperately attempt to gain re-entry into his own present. With the same combination of hard science and heart that has buoyed many great sci-fi series (the "Star Trek" franchise, Ronald D. Moore's revamp of "Battlestar Galactica"), and pairing the talented Bakula with Oscar-nominated vet Dean Stockwell as his advisor/guide Al, the series hit a sweet spot balance of humor and emotion.

Anchoring "Quantum Leap" around what was essentially a two-hander relationship meant that Bellisario and his team had to populate the series with exceptional guest stars, and the show's 97 episodes are a cross-section of experienced and up-and-coming players. Among the latter were Melora Hardin ("The Office"), Neal McDonough ("Captain America: The First Avenger"), Jon Gries ("Napoleon Dynamite"), and "Beverly Hills 90210'" actor Jamie Walters, while the latter included a host of long-time TV and movie talent. 

Some "Leap" alumni remain active on our screens all these years later; others have left the stage. Here is a list of "Quantum Leap" actors you may not know have passed on.

Dennis Wolfberg was second-in-command scientist Gooshie

A popular comic on the stand-up and talk show circuit in the 1990s, Dennis Wolfberg parlayed his quick wit and talent for wild-eyed reactions into six appearances on "Leap" as Dr. Irving Gushman, a.k.a "Gooshie." A computer scientist and MIT grad who helped Sam create and program Ziggy — the super-computer at the heart of Project Quantum Leap — Gooshie also oversaw the computer's mainframe programming. In keeping with Wolfberg's irreverent comic persona, Gooshie was also saddled with an unpleasant quirk: medicine had corrected his severe sinusitis but also left him with terrible breath.

An American Comedy Award winner in 1990 for funniest male stand-up, Wolfberg worked almost exclusively as a comic outside of "Leap," making only occasional appearances in other feature projects and on TV. However, he did write and star in a 1990 comic short, "Teacher Teacher," which spoofed his pre-comedy career as an educator in the New York school system. Wolfberg died of cancer at the age of 48 on October 3, 1994.

SNL vet Charles Rocket played mean twice on two Leap

A former "Saturday Night Live" cast member who was removed from the show after uttering an on-air curse word, Charles Rocket rebounded from that setback to find steady work as a supporting player in features and on television. His list of credits included "Dumb and Dumber," "Dances with Wolves," and numerous episodic TV appearances, including two turns on "Quantum Leap." He played a Scrooge-like character who is shown the error of his ways when Sam leaps into the body of his valet in Season 3's "A Little Miracle," and a hard-nosed commanding officer with a bone to pick with a young Al in Season 4's "A Leap for Lisa."

Rocket worked steadily in the years after his "Quantum" spots, netting a shared Screen Actors Guild Special Award with his castmates in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," and enjoying a recurring role as Adam, an angel of death, on "Touched By an Angel" while also lending numerous voices to animated series like "The New Batman Adventures." After logging his final live-action appearance in a 2004 episode of "Law and Order: Criminal Intent," Rocket committed suicide on his property in Connecticut on October 7, 2005.

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Reni Santoni faced down an infamous figure from history

A prolific character actor who moved capably between comedy and drama throughout his four-plus-decade career, Reni Santoni gave a memorable turn as a tough Marine drill sergeant who hassles Sam while he inhabits one of history's most controversial figures in the two-part Season 5 opener "Lee Harvey Oswald." Playing the hardcase was nothing new to Santoni, who appeared in the 1983 Sean Penn drama "Bad Boys" and played police detectives partnered with Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry" and Sylvester Stallone in "Cobra." 

But he may be best remembered for comic turns in a slew of movies and TV shows, including a recurring role as the hygiene-challenged Poppie on "Seinfeld," and guest and supporting shots in "The Brady Bunch Movie," "Private Parts," "Can't Hardly Wait" and "Dr. Doolittle" (as the voice of Rat #1). Santoni, who also provided many ADR voices for TV series and features like "Groundhog Day," died at the age of 82 of complications from lung and throat cancer on August 1, 2020.

Richard Herd almost created Project Quantum Leap

Boston-born actor Richard Herd gave a memorable turn as Moe Stein, a '50s TV actor whose attempt to build a time machine — which operates in a manner similar to Sam's string theory of time travel — gets him blackballed as mentally incompetent in Season 3's "Future Boy." Herd then returned for Season 5's "Mirror Image," which also closed the series. In it, Sam mistakes him for Stein, but in this reality he's a miner named Ziggy — also the name given to the AI computer that helps Sam leap through time.

Herd began his career on the stage before enjoying high-profile character turns in features like "All the President's Men" and "The China Syndrome." He worked extensively in television during the 1980s and '90s, most notably as the alien commander John on "V" and in recurring roles as a police captain on "T.J. Hooker," as Admiral Noyce on "SeaQuest DSV," and as George Costanza's boss, Matt Wilhelm, on "Seinfeld." Hurd closed his career with supporting turns in Jordan Peele's "Get Out" (as the architect of the Armitage family's horrible plan) and Clint Eastwood's "The Mule" before his death from complications of colon cancer at the age of 87 on May 26, 2020.

Max Wright survived Alf before his Leap appearances

Max Wright turned up in two episodes of the elaborately-plotted Season 5 three-parter "Trilogy" as Doc Kinman — a small town physician whose son Will (Travis Fine) was caught up in a complex triangle of love and murder in the Deep South from the 1950s to the 1970s. His turn as Doc Kinman was a marked change from the majority of his acting work in the 1980s, which was dominated by his starring role in "ALF" as the perpetually exasperated Willie Tanner.

Wright, a Tony-nominated stage actor, also appeared in numerous features including "All That Jazz," "Grumpier Old Men," and "Snow Falling on Cedars." But TV was his most prominent showcase, and for much of the '80s and '90s, he was a guest player on series like "Taxi" and "Cheers," as well as a series regular on "Norm" from 1999 to 2001. Wright appeared opposite Norm MacDonald one last time in the 2005 sketch comedy special "Back to Norm" before dying from lymphoma at age 75 in 2019.

Teddy Wilson shared the good times on Leap twice

Actor Theodore "Teddy" Wilson contributed solid support to two "Leap" episodes: He was the sidekick and supporter of a legendary pool player in Season 2's "Pool Hall Blues," and the owner of a roadside café frequented by '50s-era bikers in Season 3's "Rebel Without a Clue." Wilson had been a dependable character actor throughout his acting career, which began in the early 1970s with minor roles in such Black action films as "Cotton Comes to Harlem" and "Cleopatra Jones."

The stage-trained Wilson worked tirelessly over the next few decades, appearing on "M*A*S*H," "All in the Family," and "Sanford and Son," as well as a recurring role on "Good Times" as neighborhood numbers runner Sweet Daddy Williams. Wilson also starred briefly in "Sanford" spin-off series "Sanford Arms," which saw him take over the Sanford home and deal with its rotating cast of eccentrics. He later co-starred with Foxx in the short-lived sitcom "The Redd Foxx Show" before resuming his steady pace of guest shots on "L.A. Law," "Dallas," "The Golden Girls,' and numerous other series.

Wilson died at the age of 47 from complications of a stroke on July 21, 1991. Several of his projects were released posthumously, including the 1993 crime drama "Blood In, Blood Out."

Rodney Kageyama showed his versatility in three Leap episodes

Actor Rodney Kageyama's appearances in three "Leap" episodes are relatively minor ones — he played Choo-Choo in Season 3's "The Leap Home: Part 2 (Vietnam)" and a cross-dressing bartender in the two-parter "Lee Harvey Oswald." But Kageyama gave his energy and presence to every role he played in features and on television and stage over the course of an impressive four-decade career.

A member of the renowned Asian American Theater Company and East West Players, he served as actor, director, and designer for many stage productions while also appearing on screen — beginning in 1976 with a filmed version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" with Marc Singer. His most prominent role may have been the dedicated automotive executive Ito in Ron Howard's hit film "Gung Ho," alongside Michael Keaton. He would reprise his turn in the short-lived spin-off series. 

Working steadily into the new millennium, Kageyama gathered small but memorable turns in "Pretty Woman" and numerous TV series. An energetic, well-loved advocate of Asian-American arts and culture in California, Kageyama died in his sleep at the age of 77 on December 9, 2018.

Royce D. Applegate: From improv comedy to two-time Leap guest star

A longtime member of the counterculture improv comedy troupe the Committee — which counted Rob Reiner, Howard Hesseman, and "Jaws" writer Carl Gottlieb among its members — and its offshoot the Synergy Trust, Royce D. Applegate began making guest appearances on TV series and features in the early 1970s. He worked steadily over the next three decades, landing roles in "Splash" and countless series including "Twin Peaks," "Dallas," "The Dukes of Hazzard," and the infamous Season 8 episode of "Diff'rent Strokes" in which Sam (Danny Cooksey) is kidnapped by a grief-stricken father, played by Applegate.

Applegate made two appearances on "Quantum Leap": He played a Southern sheriff in the segregation-themed Season 1 episode "The Color of Truth," and a radio announcer in "Play Ball," in which Sam leaps into a minor-league pitcher. 

His most visible TV roles soon followed: Applegate played Chief Manilow Crocker on "SeaQuest DSV" and a Confederate general in the epic Civil War miniseries "Gettysburg." He worked steadily into the 2000s with roles in the Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Intolerable Cruelty"; Applegate died in a fire in his Hollywood Hills home on January 1, 2003.

TV heel Lance LeGault lent his face and voice to two Leap episodes

Basso-voiced Lance LeGault began his Hollywood career as a stand-in for Elvis Presley, which led to bit parts in his musical features. Tall, rangy, and imposing in appearance, LeGault soon moved into character roles that played up his rumbling voice and rough-hewn looks: tough guys in "Coma" and the TV-movie "The Gambler," rigid military types in "Stripes" and on "Magnum, P.I." and "The A-Team," which cast him in a recurring role as Colonel Roderick Decker, who pursued Hannibal and his men in the second, third, and fourth season.

LeGault was also a natural for Westerns, and rode tall in the saddle as a ranch owner in the Season 1 "Leap" episode "How the Tess Was Won," which found him at odds with his independent daughter (Kari Lizer). He returned in Season 2, albeit in an off-screen and uncredited turn as narrator for "Another Mother." In the years that followed his "Leap" work, LeGault divided his time between acting and voice-over work for numerous commercials, video games, animated series, and trailers. His final screen appearance came as a hard-drinking truck driver in the 2013 indie "Prince Avalanche," starring Paul Rudd. LeGault died of heart failure at his home in Los Angeles on September 10, 2012 before its release the following year.

Dean Stockwell's brother Guy Stockwell played a boxing bad guy

As you may have guessed, actor Guy Stockwell was Dean Stockwell's brother. Both siblings enjoyed popular careers in the 1950s: Dean played a number of sensitive young men, while his older brother was cast in numerous action and Western films like "The War Lord" and "Tobruk." 

Both Guy and Dean saw their screen careers take a downturn at the end of the 1960s, during which television became their most prominent showcase. But while Dean enjoyed a major comeback in the 1980s and an Oscar nomination for "Married to the Mob," Guy maintained a lower profile as a guest player and acting teacher.

One of those guest shots was the Season 1 episode "The Right Hand of God," an old-fashioned boxing story with Sam leaping into the body of a '70s-era boxer who needs to win a championship match in order to benefit his new contract holders, a convent of nuns (!). Guy Stockwell plays the episode's requisite heavy, a boxing promoter who fixes matches to benefit his own interests. 

Following his "Leap" appearance, Guy Stockwell returned to teaching and guest roles, including multiple appearances on "Murder, She Wrote" and a supporting turn in Alejandro Jodorowsky's surreal "Santa Sangre." A diabetes sufferer in his final years, he died from complications of the disease on February 6, 2002.

Beverly Hillbillies alum Nancy Kulp took a heavenly turn on Leap

Among the group of nuns who held boxer Michael Strasser's contract in "The Right Hand of God" was a familiar face to generations of TV viewers. Playing opposite Michelle Joyner's Sister Angela was Emmy-nominated actress Nancy Kulp as Sister Sarah. Kulp, best known for playing the conservative Miss Hathaway on "The Beverly Hillbillies," had appeared sporadically on television since the rural comedy took its last swim in the ce-ment pond in 1971. Kulp had been a prolific character player in films and television prior to "Hillbillies," but the sitcom largely defined her screen career, even after its cancellation.

Kulp had remained active in other fields, including stints on Broadway and as an artist-in-residence at Juanita College in Pennsylvania. She also made an unsuccessful bid for the House of Representatives in 1984, which was partially undone by a radio spot recorded by her "Hillbillies" co-star Buddy Ebsen, with whom she had an antagonistic relationship until shortly before her death.

"Quantum Leap" was Kulp's second-to-last TV role; a supporting turn on an "ABC Afterschool Special" starring Kerri Green of "The Goonies" aired the same year in 1989. Diagnosed with cancer in 1990, Kulp died of the disease on February 3, 1993.

Character actor J.C. Quinn gave Sam a hard time

Character actor J.C. Quinn specialized in gritty tough guys and hard cases throughout his lengthy career on stage and in feature films like "The Abyss," Clint Eastwood's "Heartbreak Ridge," and "Vision Quest." His guest role on Season 4's "Unchained" was no exception: Quinn played Boss Cooley, a merciless prison guard for a chain gang working labor duty in the Deep South.

As "Leap" often did, the episode addressed serious issues like racial inequality in the justice system through the connection between Sam's leaper — a petty thief — and the young Black man (Basil Wallace) falsely imprisoned for robbery to whom he's chained. The story takes a page from the classic drama "The Defiant Ones" when the pair escapes the chain gang, with Quinn in pursuit.

Quinn, whose screen credits included everything from "Maximum Overdrive" to "Days of Thunder," continued to play raw-edged characters after his "Leap" appearance, logging roles in "Primary Colors," "Animal Factory," and his final big-screen appearance, Joe Chappelle's "Takedown" in 2000. Four years later, the 63-year-old Quinn died in a car crash in Juarez, Mexico on February 10, 2004.

Fran Ryan fought evil - and lost - on Leap

One of the most offbeat and oft-discussed "Quantum Leap" episodes is Season 3's "The Boogieman," which aired on October 26, 1990. The Halloween/horror-themed episode features Sam leaping into a horror novelist accused of a series of murders in a small town. Assisting him in his search for the true culprit — who may or may not be the devil — is a teenager and horror obsessive named Stevie King. As you may surmise, the character was a young version of horror novelist Stephen King, whose books are referenced throughout the episode (a '58 Plymouth Fury, etc.).

Among those that fall prey to mysterious circumstance in "The Boogieman" is town gossip Dorothy Jaeger, who dies from apparent snake bite. Playing Dorothy is prolific character actor Fran Ryan, who appeared in countless feature films and television series from the 1960s to the late '90s. Ryan, who specialized in folksy, working-class types, appeared in everything from "Rocky II" to "Stripes" and "Pale Rider" while also logging an astonishing number of guest shots on TV. 

She played Doris Ziffel on "Green Acres," and recurred on everything from "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" to "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and "Night Court." Ryan made her final TV appearance in a 1993 episode of "The Commish," dying of natural causes seven years later on January 15, 2000.

OG (Original Grandma) Frances Bay got scary on Leap

Speaking of Stephen King, "Quantum Leap" borrowed the core premise of his novel "Misery" for its Season 4 episode "Moments to Live," in which Sam — inhabiting the body of a popular daytime soap opera star — is kidnapped by an obsessed fan (Kathleen Wilhoite). He's brought to meet her mother (Frances Bay), where things get even crazier: Mom is actually the kidnapper's roommate from a psychiatric hospital, and the fan has a super-unpleasant plan in store for Sam.

Frances Bay, who plays Wilhoite's "mom" in "Moments," had been essaying elderly women of all stripes since the late 1970s, when she made her screen acting debut at the age of 59 in the Chevy Chase/Goldie Hawn comedy "Foul Play." She went on to play countless elderly ladies — she's Adam Sandler and Kyle MacLachlan's grandmother in "Happy Gilmore" and "Blue Velvet" (one of several appearances for David Lynch) and also logged numerous TV appearances on "Happy Days," "The Middle," and "Seinfeld," including the finale, where she testified against Jerry and friends. 

Bay died at the age of 92 from complications of pneumonia on September 15, 2011; her final, posthumous screen appearance came three years later with the release of "Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces," which featured a glimpse of her supernatural Mrs. Tremond/Chalfont.

Dean Stockwell brought humor and heart as Al

Every hero needs an advisor — someone to lend support and point out solutions or shortcuts that will assist the lead in completing their task or quest. For Sam Beckett on "Quantum Leap," that advisor is Rear Admiral Upper Half Albert Calavicci, USN, or just Al, as Sam knew him. A streetwise military man with seemingly limitless experience in every problem Sam faced while leaping, Al — or rather, his hologram, which only Sam and a select few could perceive — was by Sam's side for the entire series run. Along the way, audiences also learned about Al's backstory, which included multiple wives, numerous romances, and a struggle with alcoholism.

Dean Stockwell, who played Al, came to "Quantum Leap" during a major career revival. The former child actor, who had starred opposite such major Golden Age Hollywood stars as Gregory Peck and Joel McCrea, graduated to adult leads in the 1950s and shared a 1959 Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor with Orson Welles and Bradford Dillman for their performances in the thriller "Compulsion." But Stockwell's career plateaued in the 1960s, and he dropped out to join the counterculture and pursue art. He returned to acting in the 1970s, largely in television roles, and was prepared to leave acting for real estate when director Wim Wenders cast him as Harry Dean Stanton's brother in "Paris, Texas."

Major roles in "Dune," "To Live and Die in L.A.," and a show-stopping turn in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" preceded an Oscar nomination for Jonathan Demme's "Married to the Mob" in 1988. "Quantum Leap" arrived the following year, and Stockwell netted four Emmy and four Golden Globe award nominations for his performance. When "Leap" departed the airwaves in 1993, Stockwell remained busy as a character actor in features and on television, most notably in a recurring role as John Cavil on "Battlestar Galactica."

Stockwell retired from acting following a stroke (via The Guardian) in 2015. He died of unspecified causes at the age of 85 on November 7, 2021.

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