Actor Stephen Furst, known for Vir Cotto in Babylon 5, Dr. Elliot Axelrod in St. Elsewhere, Kent “Flounder” Dorfman in Animal House, died June 16, 2017 from complications related to diabetes at his home in Ventura, California at age 62.
Stephen Furst was born Stephen Nelson Feuerstein in Norfolk, Virginia. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University’s theater program. In 1972, Furst’s father died from diabetes complications. Years later, Furst himself was diagnosed with type II diabetes. After almost needing to have his left foot amputated due to diabetes complications in 1996, Furst reduced his weight from 260 lbs to 175 lbs.
Furst had two sons, both in the entertainment business. His older son, Nathan Furst (b. 1978), is a television and film composer. His younger son, Griff Furst (b. 1981), is an actor, director and musician. His wife Lorraine Wright is an entertainment lawyer.
Career As An Actor
Furst worked as a pizza delivery driver while looking for acting jobs in the mid-1970s, and included his headshot in pizza boxes. After Matty Simmons saw his photo, Furst was cast as Flounder in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). He reprised this role in the 1979 spin-off series Delta House.
Other roles include ‘Junior’ Keller in The Unseen (1980), as Gonzer in the feature film Up the Creek (1984), as Dr. Elliot Axelrod in the television series St. Elsewhere (1983–1988), and as Vir Cotto in the science fiction television series Babylon 5 (1994–1998).
Furst was amused by the report that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un modeled his haircut after Furst’s character in Babylon 5.
In 1979 he played the role of an overweight high school tuba player coerced onto the wrestling team in Kieth Merrill’s feel-good underdog film, Take Down. Also in 1979, as pointed out above, he reprised the Flounder character in the ABC sitcom Delta House. He also reprised the character and repeated his famous line, “Oh boy, is this great!” in the Twisted Sister music video for “I Wanna Rock.”
In 1980, he played the character of Harold in the cult classic movie, Midnight Madness, and the character of “Junior” Keller (the unseen) in the horror movie The Unseen. In 1983, he also appeared in a supporting role as Aldo in the provocative ABC TV movie The Day After. In 1989, he played the character of Albert Ianuzzi in the film The Dream Team.
In 1983, Furst also appeared in an episode of CHiPs titled “Fun House,” alongside Erik Estrada, Tom Reilly, and Heather O’Rourke; in this installment, Furst acted out a student who belonged to the college fraternity “DDT.”
Although not a regular, he also appeared in the short-lived 1992 TV series The Amazing Live Sea Monkeys.
In the 1995 animated TV series Freakazoid!, he voiced the character Fanboy. Also in 1995, he took a hiatus from Babylon 5 to star in a short-lived TV series, Misery Loves Company.
In 1997, he played Derby Ferris in Little Bigfoot 2: The Journey Home. He also voiced a young Colonel Hathi in Season 2 of Disney’s Jungle Cubs, had a starring voice role as Booster in the 2000 series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, and also played a hulky walrus named Dash in the 2000 Disney movie The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea. He starred in Magic Kid and its sequel.
In 2002, he guest starred in an episode of Scrubs.
Furst has directed many independent and/or low-budget movies, including the low-budget movie Title to Murder starring Christopher Atkins and Maureen McCormick in 2001 and the direct to video children’s movie Baby Huey’s Great Easter Adventure.
Furst directed three low-budget movies for the Sci Fi Channel, Dragon Storm in 2004; and Path of Destruction and Basilisk in 2005; he also co-starred in both of the latter two films.
Furst produced My Sister’s Keeper based on the Jodi Picoult novel starring Cameron Diaz and Alec Baldwin.
Furst has produced other several films under his production company Curmudgeon Films. Atomic Shark aired in August of 2016 on Syfy during Sharknado Week. Christmas in Homestead premiered on the Hallmark Channel during the holiday season of 2016. Cold Moon, a psychological thriller based on the Michael McDowell book, is set for a theatrical release in October 2017 in the United States. Cold Moon won “Best Horror Film” at the 2016 Laughlin Film Festival.
2016 Criticism of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Furst wrote a letter, later published in Variety, criticizing the Academy’s portrayal of its own members as racist and resistant to diversity and suggested the Academy’s response to the 2016 #OscarsSoWhite was ageist and sexist. He suggested that most members of the Academy don’t watch the films nominated for awards and that the Academy should start by ensuring those who vote have watched the films.
Battle with Obesity, Diabetes, and Activism
Cast in early roles as a fat kid, Furst used humor to help him cope with his insecurities about his weight. He said, “when you’re a fat kid, you try to make the fat jokes before other people make them.” Both of Stephen’s parents died at age 47 from complications of diabetes. When Furst was just 17, and only weeks after his father’s death, his doctor told him he had diabetes. He reached a weight of 320 pounds and out-of-control type 2 diabetes by age 40. He stepped on a piece of glass which resulted in a limb-threatening foot infection. He said, “I finally admitted that obesity and diabetes were a part of a life-threatening legacy – and I had to deal with it or die.” He started an aggressive diet and dropped to 164 pounds and was able to stop taking insulin. But much damage had already been done.
Furst developed end-stage renal disease and started dialysis. Dialysis severely limited his life. While at a casting call for a play he was producing in Cincinnati, Furst mentioned that he was on dialysis for two years. An anonymous donor heard about his plight and offered to donate a kidney. Astonishingly they were a tissue match. Stephen never found out the identity of his donor who he credits with saving his life, but in recent years, on his Facebook page, he publicly thanked the donor on the anniversary of his transplant surgery.
Since June 2006 Furst has co-hosted the Renal Support Network’s webcast KidneyTalk with Lori Hartwell.
Furst became a spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association and authored the book “Confessions of a Couch Potato.” He shared his tips and recipes for how he took control of his diabetes and his life, but his signature humor shines throughout the book.
As a celebrity spokesperson for the American Heart Association, Furst said, “I thought I was more powerful than the disease of diabetes, but in reality, I was letting it take control of me. Now, I’ve decided to take control of my life.”
In later years, suffering from more foot problems and at risk for amputation, Furst became an advocate for the use of total contact cast and amniotic tissue to heal diabetic foot ulcers.
On June 17, 2017, TMZ reported that Furst’s son Nathan stated that the actor died from complications related to diabetes at his home in Ventura, California at age 62.