Sir Alec Guinness in the Press

Monday, August 7, 2000

Sir Alec Guinness dies at 86
Career covered Hamlet to Obi-Wan

LONDON (CP) — Tributes flooded in from the world of entertainment Monday for British actor Sir Alec Guinness, “the man of a thousand faces” who died at the age of 86 after a stage and screen career spanning more than six decades.

Guinness, whose repertoire stretched from Shakespeare to Star Wars, died late Saturday after being taken to a hospital Thursday, a spokesman for the King Edward VII Hospital in West Sussex, southern England, said Monday.

The hospital wouldn’t confirm the cause of death, but newspaper reports said he died of liver cancer.

Guinness had suffered from ill health for several years and had undergone cataract surgery to restore his vision, which was badly affected by chronic glaucoma.

Winner of an Oscar for his role in the classic 1957 war movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, the reluctant star of blockbusters including Lawrence of Arabia was remembered as one of Britain’s greatest and most versatile thespians.

“He was one of the all-time greats of both stage and screen professionally,” said Ronald Neame, who produced the actor’s first film, Great Expectations, released in 1946.

“The wonderful thing about Guinness was he became the part he was playing, he was like a chameleon, he would change colours.”

Guinness starred in the title role in Richard III, the opening production of the Stratford Festival in July 1953.

Director George Lucas, who brought the veteran’s magic to younger audiences by casting him as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the 1977 epic Star Wars, praised Guinness as “one of the most talented and respected actors of his generation.”

But, as Guinness once told a British magazine, the role and “those bloody awful lines” were not among his favourites.

“I’d had enough of the mumbo jumbo,” he said, explaining how he persuaded Lucas to have Kenobi killed off by Darth Vader.

“I shrivel up every time someone mentions Star Wars to me,” Guinness added, scorning the film despite the fact his percentage of the box-office takings made him a fortune.

Sir John Mills, 92, who played opposite Guinness in Great Expectations, recalled a hard-working, humble man who simply viewed acting as a job for which he was well paid.

“He was a great character actor, the best we’ve ever had I think,” Mills said. “It was a job to him, and how he worked at it. He was meticulous.”

Star Wars co-star Carrie Fisher recalled Guinness’s quiet poise: “While the rest of us were sitting on the set, it was as if (Alec) were sitting on the deck of a yacht. He had a way of elevating his environment.”

The Daily Telegraph reflected on the words of fellow actor Peter Ustinov in its headline, describing Guinness as “the outstanding poet of anonymity.”

Born in London in 1914, his first professional appearance was a walk-on part in Libel in 1933. In 1938, he played Hamlet in modern dress at London’s Old Vic theatre.

After serving with the Royal Navy during the Second World War, he rejoined the Old Vic in 1946.

After Oliver Twist in 1948 came a series of Ealing studio comedies that included the internationally popular Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), with Guinness as a mousy clerk turned bank robber.

Guinness, who was knighted in 1960, was renowned for his reluctance to take on the role of a superstar.

“You can only be your own personality and I am just happy to be an actor,” he said. “If I tried to swan around, I wouldn’t know how to behave. If I tried to be a superstar, I’d be a laughing stock.”

He was characteristically humble about his Oscar-winning performance as the Colonel in The Bridge on the River Kwai, saying: “I don’t look back on it as a great performance.”

Guinness married the playwright Merula Salaman in 1938 and had one son, Matthew.

A selected list of Sir Alec Guinness’s film and television work:

  • “Evensong” (1934)
  • “Great Expectations” (1946)
  • “Oliver Twist” (1948)
  • “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (1949)
  • “The Man in the White Suit” (1951)
  • “The Lavender Hill Mob” (1951)
  • “The Captain’s Paradise” (1953)
  • “The Ladykillers” (1955)
  • “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957)
  • “Our Man in Havana” (1960)
  • “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962)
  • “Doctor Zhivago” (1965)
  • “The Comedians” (1967)
  • “Murder by Death” (1976)
  • “Star Wars” (1977)
  • “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)
  • “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (1980) (TV)
  • “Smiley’s People” (1982) (TV)
  • “Return of the Jedi” (1983)
  • “A Passage to India” (1984)
  • “Monsignor Quixote” (1985) (TV)
  • “Little Dorrit” (1988)
  • “A Handful of Dust” (1988)
  • “Kafka” (1991)
  • “Mute Witness” (1994)
  • “Eskimo Day” (1996) (TV)
Roles for Sir Alec Guinness
Wednesday, March 19, 1997

Reclusive Guinness avoids Star Wars hype

LONDON (AP) — Hype has sucked the force from Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Sir Alec Guinness, who played the wise old Jedi warrior in Star Wars, has refused to attend the royal premiere of its re-release in London’s Leicester Square on Thursday.

“The hype over the reissue of Star Wars and the constant demands for interviews from the press, magazines, radio and TV have got me down and my only refuge is to refuse everything,” the Oscar-winner said Wednesday.

Guinness, 82, has become a reclusive figure, making few theatre appearances.

He won the best actor Oscar for the 1957 film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and was nominated for best supporting actor for Star Wars.

Wednesay, April 3, 1996

Guinness Honored For 60 years in Film

LONDON (AP) — Obiwan Kenobi a fraud? His friends don’t think so.

Actor Sir Alec Guinness said he wasn’t sure he was worthy of a commemoration Tuesday to celebrate more than 60 years in film and his 82nd birthday.

Guinness, who played dozens of famous roles, among them the wise Obiwan Kenobi in the Star Wars trilogy, unveiled a plaque in his honor outside the headquarters of the actors’ trade union, Equity.

“The idea makes me feel rather fraudulent, my contribution to film has always been negligible,” said the man who won a special Oscar in 1979 for advancing the art of screen acting. “My first love has always been the theater.”

Earlier he had written the unveiling planners: “Are you sure everybody wants this to go through?”

Actor John Hurt insisted Guinness was no fraud.

“For me, he was my absolute idol as a child,” Hurt said. “He was the center of the British cinema industry for as long as I can remember. I can’t think of a more fitting person to honor.”

Guinness is famous both for his roles in classic black and white British films such as Great Expectations (1946), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) as well as blockbusters such as the Star Wars trilogy.

He won the best actor Oscar in 1957 for The Bridge on the River Kwai, and was nominated four others times.