When I planned to have a feature with Cliff Simon on my blog, I had hoped it would have been as the result of an interview with the actor. So, to be sitting here now, writing an article that honours his life and memory instead, is both unbelievable and heart-breaking.
Last week, the Stargate fandom and beyond were left in shock after Cliff’s wife, Colette, released a statement to say that the actor, adventurer and author had died following a kiteboarding accident at Topanga Beach, California.
In the days that followed, my social media feeds and even my Google alerts, were full of tributes for the 58-year-old. From his family and his friends; his co-workers and his fans – it has been clear to see how Cliff has touched the lives of so many people over the years.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Cliff and his family moved to the UK when he was a teenager. Growing up, he was a keen gymnast and swimmer and even qualified for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles for swimming. He later returned to South Africa to join the country’s Air Force. Here, he served a two-year term, during which he was awarded the Victor Ludorum (a trophy presented to the most successful team, club, or competitor at a sports event). After this, Cliff chose a different pace of life and started working at a hotel, where he taught windsurfing and water-skiing.
It was also here that he started performing. At the time, there was a stage show in production at the resort, and Cliff was informed by one of the performers that the choreographer was looking for a gymnast. He subsequently accepted the job and in the years that followed he performed across the globe in numerous stage productions as a dancer. This side of his career culminated in him performing at the famous Moulin Rouge in Paris and in 1989 – after just six months in the chorus – he came principal dancer.
Cliff, along with his wife, later moved to Los Angeles and this is where the actor received his big break. He appeared in shows including 24, Castle, NCIS: Los Angeles, and The Americans; while he most recently presented Into The Unknown which saw Cliff travel to some of the most extreme landscapes as he searched for answers to famous myths and legends.
However, it will be his role as the Goa’uld System Lord, Ba’al, on Stargate SG-1 for which Cliff will be so fondly remembered by many. He didn’t join the show until its fifth season and Joseph Mallozzi (a writer and producer of the show) has said that the episodes in question were “designed to showcase some potential new villains for the series”. It was a memorable appearance for Cliff as he brought a different element to the long-standing ‘bad guys’ of Stargate. He had humour, charisma, style… but there was an underlying aspect to the character that left you in no doubt as to just how cunning Ba’al could be. Abyss was the episode that brought this to the fore – and Cliff played the role of the villainous villain with aplomb and subsequently established a riveting personal vendetta between his character and that of Jack O’Neill in the years that followed.
Ba’al became the character that we loved to hate but away from the screen Cliff became the man that we fell in love with. It was no surprise to discover that he was the complete opposite of the dastardly bad guy; sure, he still exuded confidence, had lots of style and had a brilliant sense of humour, but his genuine warmth and open, friendly demeanour saw him quickly become a fan favourite at conventions. Many of whom have shared their stories or meet and greet experiences over the past week.
Even as the pandemic caused conventions to be cancelled throughout 2020, the past few months saw Cliff switch to more online events so he could continue to interact with his fans. From giving shoutouts on social media, recording video messages, and even hosting virtual hangouts where fans could talk to him about anything they wanted – even if they just needed a few positive words for the day ahead.
It wasn’t just the fans that Cliff was passionate about helping, however. He also supported different charitable organisations including Sea Shepherd and organisations fighting against AAPI hate.
He was an author, penning the book Paris Nights which delved into his time at the Moulin Rouge. He was also a gifted storyteller and this ability was front and centre during his appearance on Hathor Hosts last year.
Suanne Braun (one of Cliff’s fellow Stargate alumni) launched Hathor Hosts during the Covid-19 pandemic and every week had a different live interview with an actor or showrunner from hit TV shows including Stargate, Absolutely Fabulous and Riverdale.
One of the standout (and most popular) episodes from the first series has, unsurprisingly, been Suanne’s interview with Cliff. At the time, even when the planned hour-long slot for the interview came to an end, Cliff continued to talk away for a further half hour, sharing stories from his life and genuinely appearing to have a great time. The fans also had a great time, and were delighted when he later returned for another Hathor Hosts episode with Suanne, Peter Williams and Jacqueline Samuda.
Stargate fans have a bond with Cliff that no-one will be able to take away. It does not compare to the loss his family and friends are experiencing, but to see the outpouring of grief and loss and love over the past week, Cliff really was held in high esteem and respected by all those who knew him – personally and professionally.
Just a few of the tributes included one from Amanda Tapping who wrote: “So incredibly sad to hear of @cliffmsimon passing away. What a wonderfully lovely man he was. Such an important part of the Stargate family. I’m speechless. RIP”.
Peter Williams, who played Apophis on Stargate SG-1, tweeted: “Been a couple days of deep reflection. @cliffmsimon had professional families who grieve with his closest loved ones. He was a Superman and a super man. There’ll be more remembrances as this sinks in. His passing has rocked the #Stargate world. We love him and won’t forget.”
David Blue, who played Eli Wallace on Stargate Universe, added: “I remember him fondly. He had the most insane stories, and he would weave them masterfully. I sat enthralled – listening, laughing… I remember every car ride, brother.”
Cliff often said that he lived life to the full, and he did. His wife also said it perfectly in her tribute to him when she shared one of his favourite verses:
“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot.
I would rather be a super meteor,
every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet,
The proper function of man is to live,
not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
Rest in peace, Cliff. You will be missed.