Actor and star of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Born: June 1, 1940;

Died: December 8, 2019

RENÉ Auberjonois, who has died of cancer aged 79, had major recurring roles in three hit American series, the sitcom Benson (1980-86), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-99) and Boston Legal (2004-08). He also worked repeatedly with director Robert Altman early in his career and, as the military chaplain Father Mulcahy, he had one of the best lines in the original film of M*A*S*H (1970).

Ranting on about the surgeon Hawkeye Pierce, chief nurse “Hotlips” O’Houlihan, wonders how such a degenerate could reach a position of responsibility in the Army Medical Corps. Treating it as a genuine question, the sweet-natured Father Mulcahy looks up from his Bible and says deadpan: “He was drafted.”

“I actually made that line up when we were rehearsing the scene,” Auberjonois said. “And it became a kind of an iconic line for the whole film.” The exchange seemed to symbolise the chaotic and fatalistic logic of the movie, which in turn became a long-running TV series. In fact the TV series lasted longer than the Korean War, during which it was set. Auberjonois declined the chance to reprise the role in the series.

He had hundreds of screen credits. He was Clayton Runnymede Endicott III, a US governor’s fussy chief of staff in Benson. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine he was Odo, the shapeshifting alien whose natural state was a lump of jelly in a bucket. And he was a senior partner in Boston Legal.

Auberjonois was also a celebrated stage actor. He won a Tony award for his performance as a flamboyant gay fashion designer in the Broadway musical Coco (1969-70). He also sang in the Disney cartoon The Little Mermaid (1989). He was the chef who sings the song Les Poissons.

He was born René Marie Murat Auberjonois into a distinguished family in New York City in 1940. His father was a journalist and writer, his grandfather was one of Switzerland’s most famous artists and he could trace his ancestry on his mother’s side to Napoleon’s sister. An exchange on Twitter illustrates his sense of humour rather well after he posted a portrait of his “great-great-great grandmother Caroline Bonaparte Murat.”

A fan responded: “No relation to the other Bonaparte I guess?”

Auberjonois: “What other Bonaparte?”

Another fan: “You have very interesting relatives.”

Auberjonois: “They may have been, I never knew them.”

His father’s postings as a foreign correspondent took the family abroad and Auberjonois spent part of his childhood in Paris and London. They subsequently spent some time in an artists’ colony in New York State. He studied theatre at college, acted with various theatre companies and made his mark in Coco, alongside Katharine Hepburn, who played Coco Chanel, and at much the same time in M*A*S*H.

He went on to work with Altman again in Brewster McCloud (1970), playing an ornithologist who turns into a bird, McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971), as a saloon-keeper, and in a rare co-starring role with Susannah York in the psychological thriller Images (1972).

As well as his major recurring TV roles, he also made numerous guest appearances on hit shows, from Starsky and Hutch (1978) to Frasier (2001). He had supporting roles in many films and did a lot of voice work for animated television series.

He is survived by his wife Judith, to whom he was married for more than 50 years, and by two children, who are both actors.