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The BBC's Tim Maby
"All his craft came from his real home - the stage"
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Actor Richard Briers
"He was one of the last of the great giants"
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Sir John Gielgud
A brief reminder of the man and some of his career highlights
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Monday, 22 May, 2000, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Theatres go dark for Gielgud
Sir John Gielgud on his 90th birthday
Peaceful exit from the stage: Sir John Gielgud
Theatre audiences across London's West End are remembering acting legend Sir John Gielgud, who has died aged 96.

One of the greatest performers of his generation, he died on Sunday at his home near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

He was the last of a generation of classical actors, including Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and Peggy Ashcroft, who dominated British theatre from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Into his 90s, Sir John was much loved for his charm

At the theatre named after him on Shaftesbury Avenue, the lights were turned out for three minutes on Monday evening as a mark of respect.

Each of the other 12 theatres in Lord Lloyd-Webber's Really Useful Group also dimmed their lights in a "blackout".

Sir John continued working until a month ago, but had taken a break from working because of his failing health.

After starting out on stage at the age of 17, he went on to appear in countless plays and more than 50 films, from Julius Ceasar to Arthur with Dudley Moore.

He is said to have only taken four weeks off during his entire working life.

Former agent Laurence Evans said the cause of death was thought simply to be old age.

Tributes were led by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Sir John Gielgud
Preparing for an appearance as Hamlet in 1936 in New York

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Blair was "very sad" to hear of his death.

"He was one of the great English figures and one of the finest actors of the last century.

"He brought immense pleasure to millions. He was much loved and will be much missed."

Even in his 90s, Sir John was still known for his wit and charm.

Last year, a critic who saw him in a theatre described him as "at once a frail and a tremendous figure".

His biographer Sheridan Morley said: "He was the greatest actor and his life was exactly the history of British theatre in the last century.

"He was born in 1904 and was on stage by 1917. He was the last of a classic generation of actors with Olivier, Redgrave, Richardson and Dame Peggy Ashcroft.

We have lost not only the best actor of all time, but a man who was a link back to the Victorian theatre.

Biographer Sheridan Morley

"Theirs was an amazing single generation of classical actors and he was the final survivor."

Mr Morley, who had working with Sir John on his biography for five years, added: "Twenty years ago people said he looked more fragile than Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson.

"But he has had the last laugh by outlasting the competition and continuing to work.

"With him we have lost not only the best actor of all time, but a man who was a link back to the Victorian theatre."

Actor and producer Tom McCabe, who worked with him in 1998's The Tichborne Claimant, recalled: "While he was 95 and very frail, when the cameras rolled he blossomed. You could see him get a new life.

"At the premiere, there was a spontaneous round of applause for his performance.

"It was so magical - that's what he brought to the screen, a magic that cannot be nurtured anywhere else."

Sir John Gielgud in 1958
In 1958 as Prospero, with Doreen Aris as Miranda, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Despite his reputation, Sir John remained modest about his achievements, and vetoed plans for lavish celebrations to mark his 90th birthday.

He was also appalled at the idea of a memorial service after his death.

"They have become society functions, and I don't think I have the right to be commemorated at Westminster Abbey," he said.

Despite playing every major Shakespearean role, including King Lear, Hamlet, and Prospero in The Tempest, he was also happy to take bit parts in TV shows and Hollywood films - with his role as a butler in Arthur winning him his only Oscar, in 1982.

Click here to watch the BBC's Jeremy Paxman interview Sir John Gielgud last December.
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