Remembering the Velvet Admiral, Richard LeParmentier

Albin Johnson | April 22, 2013

This week the Star Wars community bids farewell to a much-loved friend. On April 15 Richard LeParmentier, Admiral Motti from A New Hope, became one with the Force. To anyone who attended conventions Richard was the upbeat and always-friendly celebrity who was ready with a smile and a conversation. It didn’t matter who you were, the admiral always made time for the fans.

adam-johnsey Omegacon May 2008, Birmingham, AL

Outside the convention scene Richard was a widely-traveled and fascinating renaissance man and was always ready with a tale from his storied career. He was a little of everything: a prolific writer, a self-styled cook, a connoisseur of worldwide cuisine, a fan of the French game of Petanque. Richard was fond of sending close friends smatterings of his work from a variety of different genres, from period dramas to buddy comedies to corporate espionage thrillers. A veteran of screenwriting, he had a unique voice in telling compelling stories.

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Richard had a passion for food and fine wine. His visits to the European conventions were favorites of his. The hospitality of 501st members is famous, so to enjoy that and at the same time enjoy fine wine and great food meant Richard was in his element. He was also a mean cook. Leon Clarence, a close friend of Richard’s and a member of the 501st UK Garrison, recounts a tale when his company traveled to Bath and Richard insisted on putting them up at a friend’s boutique hotel (which had not even opened yet), then proceeded to wait up for them after their company function just to keep the bar open for his friends. The next morning he said, “You know what guys, as it’s just you here, why don’t you come back into the kitchen and I’ll rustle up breakfast.”

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A classically trained actor, his other roles in sci-fi included Space: 1999 and Rollerball. His role in Star Wars launched him into the Hollywood social circle of his day. Listening to him after hours, so many names rolled off of his tongue — Nicholson, Reeve, the real legends of the time. To hear him tell it, the ’80s sounded like the time to be alive. It reminded one that you were in the presence of a real Hollywood star. The role he was famous for was actually a relatively small part, but it was the biggest one-off franchise in the world. As a result he was instantly recognizable wherever he went.

Cusset 2010. The French Garrison gives Richard a gift of petanque balls with his name engraved on it.

Richard started a development incubator called 3 Rivers Productions in his adopted home of Bath. Leon recounts a time when he traveled down to Bath for an enjoyable development meeting, which started in a private meeting room and descended to the restaurant below. Over lunch they spotted the wine merchant with two cases of sample bottles for the restaurant owner. A cheeky offer to help sample the wines ended with them drinking the entire sample case between them.

Richard was a loving father to three great kids: Rhiannon, Steph, and Tyrone. Ty was a regular companion of his on the convention circuit. Richard was a doting father and would go anywhere to see them, often just for an hour or two, traveling across the UK and then lately to Texas just to be around them whenever he had the chance.

When health issues became a factor in Richard’s life, no one knew about it; he was a private man in that regard. But his treatment led to a remarkable recovery that set him on the path of pouring his energy into writing and other pursuits. And when his fellow Star Wars actor and friend Jerome Blake was diagnosed with cancer, Richard was a constant cheerleader and supporter, always checking in on him and offering his support. For Richard, it was not uncommon for him to ask after his many friends worldwide. He was always asking about my daughter Katie while she was suffering from brain cancer. If asked had the admiral gone soft on charity, he would quip back, “It’s not charity when you’re helping your friends.”

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Brent Manchester was a close friend of Richard’s in England. He remembered the man who loved his movies, his food, and his holiday parties: “I well remember Christmas 2007. We demolished a Dickensein feast of roast beef and roast pork with all the trimmings whilst watching Bad Santa, which Richard had brought with him. What Christmas film should we now watch? We went through my DVD collection and watched all our favorite bits: the beach attack from Saving Private Ryan, the Kirk Douglas “I am Spartacus Speech,” the frigate attack from Master and Commander, the list went on and so did we. A 4:00 p.m. start and a 4:00 a.m. finish — one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had. Then there was the time we organized a 200th anniversary dinner to celebrate the Battle of Trafalgar with local restaurateur David Price. An evening of dining officers and dancing on tables!”

Dad Dancing at Trafalgar

Another close friend of Richard’s, Spat Oktan, recalls the generosity of the man towards fans working in show business. “The last time I saw Richard was while I was in Austin doing effects make-up for a movie called Bad Kids Go To Hell. He was in Austin visiting his son, Tyrone, so they both came to set to visit for the day. It was great seeing him and I felt a little proud to have him there seeing me work. When word got out that he was there, one friend posted on Facebook something along the lines of, ‘What is the world coming to when the actors from Star Wars go to visit fanboys on the sets of THEIR movies?!?!!’.”

Cathy Bowden remembers Richard fondly from the convention scene. As a former director of the Star Wars track for DragonCon, she recalls the day she was helping out in VIP registration the first year he came. “Ah, you are the infamous Cathy Bowden I’ve been hearing about,” he said, looking at her name tag. “I’m all set. Want to grab a beer?”

My favorite memory of Richard was in 2003 when the Legion’s Trooper Groupies made their debut. Dressed in white mini-skirts and hats boasting troopers’ TK numbers, they were the cheerleaders for the Empire. When Richard met them he grabbed one of their caps for himself, announced that they were now “Motti’s Angels” and whisked them off to accompany him around the con.

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That’s just how he was. Richard never knew a stranger. Every fan, every guest, every person he met he treated like a longtime friend. When you were with Richard he made you feel like a part of the crew, an old hand at the game, a regular guy or gal. If he saw kids in his line, he was ready with a free autograph. If a fan wanted to play up the “Vader choke” scene, Richard never considered it beneath him.

Richard was and always will be the fan’s best friend, a bright spot in the fan galaxy, and a credit to the family of people who have formed in the Star Wars community.

We’ll miss you, Admiral.

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Albin Johnson was a lowly Stormtrooper on Detention Block 2551 before Lord Vader lost a bet and allowed him to found the 501st Legion, “Vader’s Fist.” He’s also man-servant to R2-KT, “the pink Imperial droid with the heart of gold.” You can learn more at 501st.com and r2kt.com or follow Albin’s off-duty antics at albinjohnson.com.

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