Acclaimed Shakespearean actor Antony Sher dies

Published 04 Dec, 2021 10:51am

The South African born actor was 72 years old and had been diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year.

Antony Sher, one of the most acclaimed Shakespearean actors of his generation, has died aged 72, the Royal Shakespeare Company said on Friday.

Sher had been diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year. His husband, Royal Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Gregory Doran, took leave from his job to care for him.

Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1949, Sher moved to Britain in the late 1960s to study drama. He joined the RSC in 1982 and had a breakthrough role in 1984 as the usurping king in Richard III, which won him a best-actor prize at British theatre's Olivier Awards.

He went on to play most of Shakespeare’s meaty male roles, including Falstaff in the Henry IV plays, Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Iago in Othello and the title characters in Macbeth and King Lear.

Non-Shakespearean roles for the company, based in the Bards hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, included Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and the title role in Moliere’s Tartuffe. Sher also performed with Liverpool’s innovative Everyman Theatre and at many of London’s main theatres, getting his first West End starring role as a drag artist in Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy in 1985. He won a second Olivier, and got a Tony nomination, for playing artist Stanley Spencer in Pam Gems' Stanley at the National Theatre and on Broadway.

Sher adapted Primo Levis powerful Auschwitz memoir If This is a Man into a one-man stage show, Primo, that ran on Broadway in 2005. His last role for the RSC was in South African writer John Kani's Kunene and The King, in which Sher played a veteran actor diagnosed with cancer.

Sher’s film roles included Dr. Moth in Shakespeare in Love, Benjamin Disraeli in Mrs Brown and Adolf Hitler in Churchill: The Hollywood Years.

Sher also wrote several novels and theatrical memoirs, along with an autobiography, Beside Myself. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000.

Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro said Sher’s performances profoundly deepened my understanding of Shakespeare.

He was a brilliant actor and an incredibly kind and thoughtful person, Shapiro said. Hamlet put it best: take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.

Sher and Doran were one of the first couples to have a civil partnership in Britain after same-sex unions were legalised in 2005. They married in 2015 when the UK legalised gay marriage.

Originally published in Dawn, December 4th, 2021