'Mythbusters' Star Grant Imahara, Electrical Engineer And Robotics Wiz, Dies At 49

Jul 14, 2020
Originally published on July 15, 2020 8:01 pm

Electrical engineer, robotics wiz, Mythbusters' cast member, Disney consultant, TV host and Hollywood animatronics designer Grant Imahara died Monday from a brain aneurysm. He was 49.

"We are heartbroken to hear this sad news about Grant," Discovery Channel wrote in a statement. "He was an important part of our Discovery family and a really wonderful man. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

Imahara was best known as a member of the "Build Team" on Discovery's Mythbusters along with Tory Belleci and Kari Byron. The trio managed to impart some scientific knowledge while partaking in truly madcap, sophomoric experiments that fans around the world adored.

Imahara was undaunted by even the most outlandish technical challenges. When Craig Ferguson lamented he was the only late-night talk show host without a sidekick, Imahara built him a goofy-looking, skeletal robot with a metal mohawk named Geoff Peterson.

At George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, he was one of a select group of R2-D2's "official operators," controlling the peripatetic robot's movements in Star Wars. To make sure the Energizer Bunny briskly drummed its way across the screen during those battery commercials, Imahara developed "a custom circuit to cycle the Energizer Bunny's arm beats and ears at a constant rate."

A native of Los Angeles, Imahara received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California. In his 2003 book, Kickin' Bot: An Illustrated Guide to Building Combat Robots, he shared what he learned building remote-controlled robots and competing in the TV show BattleBots with his champion machine Deadblow.

A constant tinkerer, Imahara was clearly thrilled with one of his last creations, a Baby Yoda that would tour children's hospitals. "Pleased to present my newest creation: a fully animatronic Baby Yoda," he wrote on his Facebook page in March. "It's been three months of hard work and countless revisions. He's a personal project that I started in early December. I did all the mechanical design, programming, and 3D printed the molds. He's currently running a continuous sequence, but soon I'll be able to trigger specific moods and reactions, as well as incorporate sound."

"Grant was a truly brilliant engineer, artist and performer, but also just such a generous, easygoing, and gentle PERSON," Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage wrote on Twitter. "Working with Grant was so much fun. I'll miss my friend."

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Grant Imahara was constantly building or refining robots. He worked on the Energizer Bunny, R2-D2 and a robot for the TV show "BattleBots." He was best known for the Discovery Channel's popular science show "MythBusters." Imahara died on Monday at the age of 49. The cause was a brain aneurysm. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has an appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: On "MythBusters," Grant Imahara, Tory Belleci and Kari Byron did some pretty nutty science experiments, like shooting a fireball made of non-dairy creamer out of a cannon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MYTHBUSTERS")

GRANT IMAHARA: Non-dairy creamer canon in three, two, one.

(SOUNDBITE OF CANNON FIRING)

BLAIR: When "MythBusters" was cancelled, the trio made a new science show for Netflix called "White Rabbit Project."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHITE RABBIT PROJECT")

IMAHARA: This is liquid nitrogen. Its temperature is minus 320 degrees.

BLAIR: Growing up in Los Angeles, Imahara's childhood bedroom was covered in "Star Wars" paraphernalia. Years later, he would be one of the official operators of R2-D2 when he worked for George Lucas' visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic. He recently posted images of a baby Yoda animatronic he said would tour children's hospitals. He told late-night host Craig Ferguson his passion for robots and building things started early.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON")

IMAHARA: My parents bought me a Lego kit...

CRAIG FERGUSON: All right.

IMAHARA: ...When I was 4 years old, very small. And I would take things apart, put things together. And it's always been an obsession of mine.

BLAIR: Grant Imahara was constantly tinkering and sharing his obsession with robotics with others. He spoke at science festivals and on college campuses. He mentored a high school robotics team. Among the tributes on social media, one fan writes, thank you for making science fun. Another says, watching your show is one of the biggest reasons I study STEM at university.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISTANT.LO'S "TOO OFTEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.