Straddled stage and films with success
Nigel Hawthorne, the scheming civil servant Sir Humphrey in the British television series "Yes, Minister", died recently at his home in Baldock, Hertfordshire, north of London. He was 72. A tribute to the versatile actor.
Winning worldwide fame as the imperious Sir Humphrey Appleby in the tele-serial, "Yes Minister".
THE CAUSE was a heart attack, said Ken McReddie, his agent. Sir Nigel had undergone chemotherapy for cancer recently.
He was nominated for an Academy Award as best actor for his title role in the 1994 film, "The Madness of King George".
Born in Coventry, England, in 1929 and raised in South Africa, he struggled to forge a theatre career in Britain during the 1950s and 1960s. He made his West End debut in "Talking to You" in 1962, more than a decade after moving to England to seek his fortune.
He later said his shyness and diffidence had held him back, though he hadn't realised it until he played a ditherer in "The Philanthropist", by Christopher Hampton.
"I'd been going for 24 years and wondering all the time what I was doing wrong", he said. "That taught me to be a little more positive".
Sir Nigel achieved worldwide fame as the imperious Sir Humphrey Appleby in "Yes, Minister", a satirical series about a hapless government minister outsmarted by devious civil servants. The series and its sequel, "Yes, Prime Minister", ran between 1980 and 1987.
He continued to appear on stage, in everything from farce to Shakespearean tragedy. He was skilled at painting subtle shades of emotion; Michael Billington, theatre critic of The Guardian, described his forte as "moral decency flecked with irony". He won a Tony Award for his depiction of the writer C. S. Lewis in the play "Shadowlands" on Broadway in 1991, and a best-actor Olivier Award in 1992 for "The Madness of George III", a portrait of the 18th-century British monarch's brush with mental illness.
Sir Nigel Hawthorne when he was knighted in 1999 ... from farce to tragedy, the actor could portray all emotions with elan.
His portrayal of the monarch in the film adaptation won him widespread praise and a large American audience.
Movie stardom brought unwanted attention. In the wake of his Oscar nomination, Sir Nigel acknowledged publicly for the first time that he was gay. Previously he had been reluctant to talk about his private life; his attitude, he said, had been "don't scare the horses and we'll all get along fine".
Sir Nigel continued to appear in films, winning praise as the father defending his disgraced son's honour in "The Winslow Boy", directed by David Mamet. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999.
Last year Sir Nigel was diagnosed with a malignant tumour in his pancreas. He underwent surgery and Mr. McReddie said chemotherapy treatment had been going well.
Sir Nigel is survived by his companion, Trevor Bentham.
While starring in the Royal Shakespeare Company's millennium production of "King Lear" in 1999, he said, "One advantage of doing Lear at 70 is that you don't have to play an old man".
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