Sir Anthony Sher, one of the great actors of his generation, has died at the age of 72.
Diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year, his death was announced by his husband, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Gregory Doran.
First revealed in September, his terminal cancer led to Gregory Doran taking compassionate leave from the RSC to care for him. Doran is expected to return to work in early 2022.
Sher had a long association with the RSC over four decades, and it is where he performed much of his most acclaimed work, in later years directed by Doran.
He won the Olivier award in 1985 for his performance in Richard III directed by Bill Alexander. That year’s award was also given to him for his performance as a drag queen in Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, his now famous acceptance speech leading him to say: “I’m very happy to be the first actor to win an award for playing both a king and a queen.” .
Bill Alexander also directed him as Shylock in a major production of The Merchant of Venice, and his other acclaimed Shakespeare roles included Macbeth, Othello, Falstaff and King Lear, all directed by Doran.
Sher’s other notable roles over his long career included playing Edmund Kean in Sartre’s bio-drama Kean directed by Adrian Noble; Cyrano de Bergerac and his Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, both directed by Doran for the RSC; lead roles as Brecht’s Arturo Ui and Kafka’s Joseph K at the National Theatre; Freud in Terry Johnson’s play Hysteria at the Theatre Royal Bath; and more recently HaroldPinter’s One for the Road in the Pinter West End season, and in John Kani’s play Kunene and the King, directed by Janice Honeyman.
Antony Sher was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1949. He moved to London in 1968 when he was 19, and studied at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. His early stage work was with Sweatshop and at the Liverpool Everyman.
Sher’s screen credits include TV series The History Man, and films including Shakespeare in Love and Mrs Brown. He was also a writer of plays and novels, and memoirs including Year of the Mad King: The King Lear Diaries.
Sher was knighted in 2000 for his services to the arts.
Catherine Mallyon, RSC Executive Director and Erica Whyman, Acting Artistic Director, said in a press statement: “We are deeply saddened by this news and our thoughts and sincere condolences are with Greg, and with Antony’s family and their friends at this devastating time. Antony had a long association with the RSC and a hugely celebrated career on stage and screen. Antony’s last production with the Company was in the two-hander Kunene and The King, written by his friend and fellow South African actor, writer and activist, John Kani.
“Other recent productions at the RSC include King Lear, Falstaff in the Henry IV plays and Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. Earlier landmark performances included Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, Iago in Othello, Prospero in The Tempest and the title roles in Macbeth, Tamburlaine the Great, Peter Flannery’s Singer, Cyrano de Bergerac, as well as his career defining Richard III. He also attracted critical acclaim for his performances at the National Theatre in his one man show Primo, Pam Gems’ Stanley (Olivier Award and TONY nominated) and Uncle Vanya with Ian McKellen. In the West End in Torch Song Trilogy (Olivier award winning for this and Richard III), at the Royal Court in Carol Churchill’s Cloud Nine and his first big hit playing Ringo Starr in Willy Russell’s John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert; and on film in Mrs Brown and on television in Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man.
“Antony was a widely exhibited artist and author of multiple books including the theatre journals Year of the King, Woza Shakespeare!, co-written with Gregory Doran, four novels including Middlepost, three plays, a television screenplay and his autobiography Beside Myself.
“Antony was deeply loved and hugely admired by so many colleagues. He was a ground-breaking role model for many young actors, and it is impossible to comprehend that he is no longer with us. We will ensure friends far and wide have the chance to share tributes and memories in the days to come.”
(Main picture: Antony Sher in Pinter’s One for the Road at the Harold Pinter Theatre)