Monday, 23 November 2015

Keith Michell Passes On

Keith Michell, who played Henry VIII in the mini-series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, died on November 20 2015 at the age of 88.

Keith Michell was born on December 1 1926 in Adelaide, South Australia. He grew up in Warnertown, South Australia. He attended  Port Pirie High School, Adelaide Teacher’s College, Adelaide School of Arts and Crafts, and Adelaide University. Mr. Michell was working as an art teacher in Adelaide when he made his stage debut in the play Lover's Leap at the Playbox Theatre there. In 1949 he went to work for ABC Radio (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) for a brief time before moving to London to study at the Old Vic Theatre. He spent a year with the Young Vic Company. During that time he played played Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice and Ellis Duckworth in an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow. The Black Arrow was shot by the BBC and so it also marked his television debut when it was aired in 1951. That same year he made his debut on the West End in musical And So To Bed at the New Theatre, playing King Charles II.

In the Fifties Keith Michell toured Australia with Anthony Quayle’s Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company. He spent time with the Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared in Don Juan and the Death of Satan. He went back to the Old Vic where he appeared in productions of Much Ado About Nothing, Titus Andronicus, and Antony and Cleopatra. He appeared in Irma La Douce both in the West End and on Broadway. On television he appeared on the shows BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, Armchair Theatre, and Dow Hour of Great Mysteries. He appeared in the films True as a Turtle (1957), Dangerous Exile (1957), and The Gypsy and the Gentleman (1958).

In the Sixties he appeared on stage in The Chances, Man of La Mancha, and Robert And Elizabeth. He appeared on television on the shows BBC Sunday-Night Play, The Spread of the Eagle, Festival, Theatre 625, Hallmark Hall of Fame, ITV Play of the Week, Love Story, and BBC Play of the Month, as well as productions of Wuthering Heights and Robert and Elizabeth. In 1970 he starred as Henry VIII in The Six Wives of Henry VIII. He appeared in the films The Hellfire Club (1961), All Night Long (1962), Il dominatore dei 7 mari (1962), Prudence and the Pill (1968), and The Executioner (1970).

In the Seventies Keith Michell was the artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre from 1974 to 1977. While there he appeared in productions of  Oedipus Tyrannus; A Month in the Country; and Tonight, We Improvise. Afterwards he appeared on stage in Othello. He appeared on television on Elizabeth R, BBC Show of the Week, and Late Night Theatre, as well as the productions The Story of Jacob and Joseph, The Story of David, Julius Caesar, and The Day Christ Died. He appeared in the film Moments (1974).

In the Eighties he appeared as Sallieri in Amadeus on stage. He played Captain Cook in the mini-series Captain James Cook. He also had a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote as jewel thief turned insurance investigator Dennis Stanton. He appeared in such TV movies as Ruddigore, The Gondoliers, The Pirates of Penzance, Memorial Day, and The Miracle, as well as the mini-series My Brother Tom. He appeared in the film The Deceivers (1988).

In 1991 he made his last appearance on stage, appearing in Henry VIII. He appeared in the two-part TV movie The Prince and the Pauper in the Nineties, and in the film Love/Loss (2010).

Keith Michell was a phenomenally talented actor. He gave an astounding performance in The Six Wives of Henry VIII, playing Henry VIII through several years of his life. In fact, he did so well that he was often called upon to play Henry VIII several more times throughout this career. Of course, Keith Michell was a versatile actor and was capable of playing much more than Henry VIII. Indeed, he seemed to have a gift for playing historical figures. He played figures from history as diverse as Robert Browning, Pontius Pilate, and Captain James Cook. He also played a number of famous characters from drama and literature throughout the years, including  Prof. Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Caliban in The Tempest, and  Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance. He was a versatile actor who was always guaranteed to give a good performance, whether it was in a horror film like The Hellfire Club or a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

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