Was he ‘the greatest stage actor of his generation’ as pronounced by many critics? Well no doubt there are an equal number of critics who may gainsay that claim. Nicol Williamson has passed away aged 75.

While it is his theatre work that engendered the most accolades (his 1969 HAMLET in London was considered to be the best since Gielgud and has never been equaled and playwright John Osborne called him “the greatest actor since Brando”) his forays into Cinema also produced memorable characters.

He may be best recalled perhaps as Merlin in the lavish EXCALIBUR in 1981 with Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson which is fitting since his mercurial temperament and eccentric behavior at times was notable.

In the early 70’s, the fame of his HAMLET was so great that Richard Nixon invited him to stage a show at the White House which he did successfully. However, when he then toured North America with the show, incidents arose. In Boston he stopped mid sentence and berated a member of the audience.

Much later on Broadway, during a show, when his co-star abandoned the choreography, the enraged Williamson whacked him heavily on the buttocks with a wooden sword. The co-star quit the next day.

His film career was not as peppered with ‘incidents’ and he was seen in –

ROBIN AND MARION with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn

THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION with an incredible cast – Larry Olivier, Joel Grey, Alan Arkin, Robert Duvall, Vanessa Redgrave and Samantha Eggar

THE WILBY CONSPIRACY with Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine

THE GOODBYE GIRL with Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss

I’M DANCING AS FAST AS I CAN with Jill Clayburgh, Geraldine Page and Joe Pesci

THE EXORCIST III with George C. Scott and Brad Dourif

He played a wide range of celluloid characters, from Badger in WIND IN THE WILLOWS to King Ferdinand in CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS and was also gifted with a good singing voice that he used on Broadway in the stage musical REX in 1976.

Numerous theatre critics number him with Barrymore, Burton and Brando as phantoms that haunt Broadway and Hollywood. Actors so gifted they bordered on genius but so cursed by that same brilliance that they all rode the train of self destruction.

He married but once, in 1971 to actress Jill Townsend. They divorced in 1977.

He died after a two year struggle with esophageal cancer on December 16th, 2011, in Amsterdam, but his son Luke only announced the death January 24th , 2012.

Vale Nicol Williamson 1936 – 2012


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