Sir John Gielgud born 14 April 1904 (d. 2000)
Undoubtedly one of the greatest British actors of the 20th century, John Gielgud was born in London into a family with a theatrical tradition, and was acting by his teens. He joined the Old Vic theatre company in 1921, made his silent film debut in 1923 and soon after, became Noel Coward`s understudy and successor in a number of plays.
His career flourished and he began to work his way through the major Shakespearean roles at the Old Vic, starting with Romeo, and before he was thirty, Richard II, The Tempest, Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear.
Gielgud also successfully moved into directing, launching his own distinguished company in 1937. He continued to work his way through the Shakespearean and more modern classics - School For Scandal, Three Sisters, The Importance of Being Earnest.
He was knighted in 1953, alledgedly through the intervention of his two already-knighted colleagues, Sir Laurence Oliver and Sir Ralph Richardson. The honour may have been 'overlooked' due to his widely acknowledged - if discreet - homosexuality. Ironically, a few months later, he was arrested for 'importuning' outside a public lavatory in Chelsea during one the Police's then regular purges. The press launched into a vitriloic campaign against him, but his public were more forgiving, and the publicity and the moral debate may have contributed to the slow move towards decriminalisation. Nonetheless, he found the experience deeply humiliating and became extremely reticent about his private life thereafter.
With the new writers and actors of the late 1950s and 1960s came a new, more naturalistic style of acting, and Gielgud, now slightly unfashionable in style, moved increasingly towards the film career that would make him a much loved and respected international star in later life. The pinnacle of his movie career was his best supporting actor Academy Award for his memorable appearance as the butler in Arthur (1982).
As he entered old age, he began to find it difficult to memorise lengthy dialogue and retired from the stage in 1988, but he continued to appear in films, notably Shine (1996) and his final appearance, in Elizabeth (1998).
In 1999, he was devastated by the death of his partner of nearly forty years, Martin Hensler. A few months later, in May 2000, Sir John Gielgud passed away quietly at home. He was 96 years old.
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