January 27, 2012

Nicol Williamson, Heralded British Actor Known for Hamlet, Holmes and More

Once hailed as the greatest actor of his generation, Williamson was 75.

Nicol Williamson, a British actor whose career spanned theater, film and television, died December 16, 2011, in Amsterdam, his home for more than two decades. He was 75.

According to news reports, the cause was esophageal cancer.

At one point hailed at the greatest actor of his generation by some critics, Williamson was born September 14, 1936, in Hamilton, Scotland, and grew up largely in Birmingham, England.

Williamson pursued acting following service in the British Army. He found work with the Dundee Repertory Company, the Royal Court in London and, later, the Royal Shakespeare Company.

His breakthrough came in 1964 with the Royal Court production of the intense drama Inadmissible Evidence. When the play moved to Broadway in 1965, Williamson was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance.

Other Broadway credits of note included the Neil Simon comedy Plaza Suite and the Tom Stoppard drama The Real Thing.

In Britain he garnered glowing notices for the title role in a 1969 production of Hamlet, an experience he drew upon in another Broadway show, 1991 comedy I Hate Hamlet, written by of Paul Rudnick. In the play, Williamson starred as the ghost of John Barrymore.

During the run, wrote the New York Times, the mercurial Williamson “criticized the play in interviews, audibly offered coaching to his fellow actors onstage, and finally, during a staged swordfight, ignored the choreography and smacked the actor Evan Handler with the flat blade of the sword, prompting Mr. Handler to leave the stage and resign.”

In 1996 he revisited Barrymore in the one-man show titled Jack: A Night on the Town With John Barrymore.

His feature film credits included The Seven Percent Solution, as Sherlock Holmes, as well as Laughter in the Dark, Robin and Marian, I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can and Excalibur, in which he played the wizard Merlin.

On television, Williamson appeared in episodes of such U.S. series as Columbo, as well as numerous miniseries and made-for-television movies, including Of Mice and Men, Christopher Columbus and Passion Flower.

Williamson’s marriage to actress Jill Townsend ended in divorce.

He is survived by a son.

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