Obituary: Winrich Kolbe (1940-2012)

October 23, 2012

Winrich Kolbe, director of nearly fifty segments of the 1980s-1990s Star Trek series, including the two-part final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the pilot for Star Trek: Voyager, has died at the age of 71.  Kolbe, who retired from directing in 2003, had left a teaching post at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2007, apparently due to illness.  His death, noted in the memoriam column of the November DGA Monthly, was not reported by any major news source or Star Trek fan outlet.  Kolbe’s sister, reached by telephone on Tuesday, confirmed that Kolbe died in late September but could provide few other details.

Born in Germany in 1940, Kolbe (above, with Denise Crosby) began his career in Hollywood as a Universal staffer in the seventies.  At Universal he moved up from associate producer (on McCloudSwitch, and Quincy, M.E.) to director in 1977, with an episode of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries.  His other early credits included single segments of Battlestar Galactica and The Rockford Files (the last episode, in fact, although the abrupt termination of the series due to James Garner’s rift with the studio meant it was not a true finale), but Kolbe his stride in the eighties as a regular director for several testosterone-rich action and crime series: Magnum, P.I.Knight RiderHunter, and Spenser: For Hire.

In 1988 Kolbe began long associations with two successful successful dramas, In the Heat of the Night and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  But it was the latter that would become his main late-career meal ticket, as “Rick” Kolbe became a franchise favorite who continued on to the Star Trek spinoffs Deep Space NineVoyager, and (briefly) Enterprise.  Kolbe directed several first-rate Next Generation episodes, including “Darmok” (with Paul Winfield) and the finale, “All Good Things…”, but his chief claim to fame within the Star Trek universe may be his three-year relationship with Kate Mulgrew during the early seasons of Voyager.  (Kolbe was married at the time, and the romance made the tabloids.)  This article offers a detailed look at the filming of one of the director’s Voyager segments, and provides a useful snapshot of how Kolbe worked.

Kolbe also directed episodes of T.J. HookerScarecrow and Mrs. KingTales of the Gold MonkeyLois & Clark: The New Adventures of SupermanMilleniumAngel24, and Fastlane, among others.

(Updated with minor changes on October 28, 2012.)

7 Responses to “Obituary: Winrich Kolbe (1940-2012)”

  1. MDH Says:

    Kolbe’s handful of MILLENNIUM episodes were among the most memorable of that show’s shaky first season. “Force Majeure,” especially — with Brad Dourif and the great Morgan Woodward as a cult leader in an iron lung — pointed the way to the show’s more satisfyingly batshit second season. Sorry to hear he’s passed, and that it went (predictably) unreported.

  2. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Interesting. Millenium is one of those 90s shows I missed, but am curious about. One day I’ll go back for it.

  3. Neville Ross Says:

    He made Star Trek: The Next Generation what it was as a show (one of many) and he will be missed. Thanks for the info, Steve.

  4. scribblenubbin Says:

    I have to admit I’m a little in shock that none of the Star Trek media sources, and there are a number, didn’t bring the news to fandom.

    Rest in peace, Mr Kolbe, you will not be forgotten.

  5. starhammer3 Says:

    Great man…you will be missed!

  6. Elim Kire Says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. Although it is sad news. He was one of my favorite directors on the various Star Trek series of the 80s & 90s

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      I still find it odd that he died in such obscurity. I expected some of the Trek sites, at least, to have the sources to fill in more details of his illness and death, but nothing else turned up that I could find.

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