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Richard Hatch, Battlestar Galactica’s original Capt. Apollo, dies at 71

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A show he almost turned down became a lifelong passion instead

Universal Studios/ABC

Richard Hatch, who played the lead role of Capt. Apollo in television's original Battlestar Galactica in the late 1970s, and returned to the series' reboot nearly 30 years later, has died. He was 71.

As Apollo, Hatch portrayed the resolute squadron leader whose Colonial Vipers protect the Galactica and its fleet as it escapes the Cylon tyranny. Premiering on ABC the year after Star Wars did in theaters, Battlestar Galactica helped lead a pop culture renaissance of science fiction.

Hatch's death was first reported by Bleeding Cool, which said he had pancreatic cancer and had gone into hospice care recently.

Richard Lawrence Hatch began his television career in the daytime soap opera All My Children, playing a role in it for two years. He made guest appearances in many notable series of the 1970s before landing his first major role: Inspector Dan Robbins, on The Streets of San Francisco.

But it was his role in the 1978 phenomenon of Battlestar Galactica that made Hatch a household name to a generation of children and teenagers, dazzled by the kind of space combat, special effects, character-rich lore and swooning orchestral soundtrack that had distinguished Star Wars the year before. In the original series' iconic opening credit sequence, Hatch's name came first.

Hatch was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1979 for his role as Apollo, the son of Commander Adama (Lorne Greene), and best friend to his wingman, the freelancing ladies' man Lt. Starbuck (Dirk Benedict).

Battlestar Galactica's original run lasted only one season, board games, lunchboxes and toys notwithstanding. Hatch found work through guest appearances in numerous television series through the 1980s, returning to soap operas in 1990 on Santa Barbara.

Ever after, he remained attached to Battlestar Galactica, trying to see through a revival to the canon and a proper resolution to its original adventures. Hatch began writing books based on the series, and developed a 30-minute film called "The Second Coming" in hopes of prodding Universal into greenlighting a new series that picked up where the 1978 series left off.

Instead, Universal opted for a series reboot in 2004 airing on Sci-Fi (today SyFy), an outcome deeply embittering for Hatch. Nonetheless, Ronald D. Moore, the writer and producer of the new series, reached out to Hatch with the role of Tom Zarek, which Hatch accepted. Zarek was a terrorist-turned-politician, held on a prison ship that joins the Galactica in its flight from the Cylons. Apollo, portrayed by Jamie Bamber, was reborn as Lee Adama, again the son of Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos).

Moore likewise gave his condolences.

In 2009, as the second Battlestar Galactica was coming to an end, Hatch reflected on his tenure with the franchise to AMC.

"When I first got the original Battlestar script, I didn’t even want to do it,” he said. “But the stupid part of it was, looking at the script with all the Ralph McQuarrie art, and seeing the character flying through the universe in one of those Vipers, the little boy in me wanting to fly through the stars ultimately said yes.

"When we watched the original Star Wars, didn’t we all fall in love with getting in those X-Wings? So when it comes down to it, it’s the little kid in us that usually wins out."

Hatch is survived by his son, Paul.