Alec Guinness

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Alec Guinness

Sir Alec Guinness Allan Warren (2).jpg
Sir Alec Guinness in 1973. By Allan Warren
Alec Guinness de Cuffe

(1914-04-02)2 April 1914
Maida Vale, London, England
Died5 August 2000(2000-08-05) (aged 86)
Resting place Petersfield Cemetery
Years active1934–1996
Merula Salaman(m. 1938)
Children Matthew Guinness
Military career
AllegianceFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Service/branchNaval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg  Royal Navy
Years of service1941–1943
Rank Lieutenant
Battles/wars World War II

Sir Alec Guinness, CH , CBE (born Alec Guinness de Cuffe; 2 April 1914 – 5 August 2000) was an English actor. After an early career on the stage, Guinness was featured in several of the Ealing Comedies, including The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he played nine different characters. He is known for his six collaborations with David Lean: Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946), Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948), Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor), Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), General Yevgraf Zhivago in Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Professor Godbole in A Passage to India (1984). He is also known for his portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy; for the original film, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 50th Academy Awards.

<i>The Ladykillers</i> 1955 crime comedy film directed by Alexander Mackendrick

The Ladykillers is a 1955 British black comedy crime film directed by Alexander Mackendrick for Ealing Studios. It stars Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Jack Warner and Katie Johnson as the old lady; Mrs. Wilberforce. William Rose wrote the screenplay, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and won the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay. He claimed to have dreamt the entire film and merely had to remember the details when he awoke.

<i>Kind Hearts and Coronets</i> 1949 British crime comedy film directed by Robert Hamer

Kind Hearts and Coronets is a 1949 British black comedy film. It features Dennis Price, Joan Greenwood, Valerie Hobson and Alec Guinness; Guinness plays nine characters. The plot is loosely based on the novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal (1907) by Roy Horniman. It concerns Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini, the son of a woman disowned by her aristocratic family for marrying out of her social class. After her death, Louis decides to take revenge on the family, and to take the dukedom by murdering the eight people ahead of him in succession to the title.

David Lean British film director

Sir David Lean was an English film director, producer, screenwriter and editor, responsible for large-scale epics such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and A Passage to India (1984). He also directed adaptations of Charles Dickens novels Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), and the romantic drama Brief Encounter (1945).


Guinness was one of three British actors, along with Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, who made the transition from Shakespearean theatre to blockbuster films immediately after World War II. Guinness served in the Royal Naval Reserve during the war and commanded a landing craft during the invasion of Sicily and Elba. During the war he was granted leave to appear in the stage play Flare Path about RAF Bomber Command.

Laurence Olivier 20th-century English actor, director and producer

Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, was an English actor and director who, along with his contemporaries Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft and John Gielgud, dominated the British stage of the mid-20th century. He also worked in films throughout his career, playing more than fifty cinema roles. Late in his career, he had considerable success in television roles.

John Gielgud English actor and theatre director

Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor and theatre director whose career spanned eight decades. With Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier, he was one of the trinity of actors who dominated the British stage for much of the 20th century. A member of the Terry family theatrical dynasty, he gained his first paid acting work as a junior member of his cousin Phyllis Neilson-Terry's company in 1922. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art he worked in repertory theatre and in the West End before establishing himself at the Old Vic as an exponent of Shakespeare in 1929–31.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Guinness won an Academy Award, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and a Tony Award. In 1959, he was knighted by Elizabeth II for services to the arts. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, the Academy Honorary Award for lifetime achievement in 1980 and the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award in 1989. Guinness appeared in nine films that featured in the BFI's 100 greatest British films of the 20th century, which included five of Lean's films.

Academy Awards American awards given annually for excellence in cinematic achievements

The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, are a set of awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry. Given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the awards are an international recognition of excellence in cinematic achievements as assessed by the Academy's voting membership. The various category winners are awarded a copy of a golden statuette, officially called the "Academy Award of Merit", although more commonly referred to by its nickname "Oscar".

The Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama was first awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association as a separate category in 1951. Previously, there was a single award for "Best Actor in a Motion Picture" but the splitting allowed for recognition of it and the Best Actor – Musical or Comedy.

Tony Award awards for live Broadway theatre

The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, more commonly known as the Tony Award, recognizes excellence in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in Midtown Manhattan. The awards are given for Broadway productions and performances, and an award is given for regional theatre. Several discretionary non-competitive awards are also given, including a Special Tony Award, the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre, and the Isabelle Stevenson Award. The awards are named after Antoinette "Tony" Perry, co-founder of the American Theatre Wing.

Early life

Guinness was born at 155 Lauderdale Mansions South, Lauderdale Road, Maida Vale, as Alec Guinness de Cuffe. [1] His mother's maiden name was Agnes Cuff. She was born 8 December 1890 to Edward Cuff and Mary Ann Benfield. On Guinness's birth certificate, the space for the mother's name shows Agnes de Cuffe. The space for the infant's name (where first names only are given) says Alec Guinness. The column for name and surname of father is blank. [2]

Lauderdale Mansions South is a block of 142 apartments in Lauderdale Road, Maida Vale, London W9. Built in 1897, Lauderdale Mansions South was the first of a swathe of mansion flat buildings for the middle classes that spread across central Maida Vale in the 1897–1907 period.

Maida Vale residential district comprising the northern part of Paddington in west London

Maida Vale is an affluent residential district comprising the northern part of Paddington in west London, west of St John's Wood and south of Kilburn. It is part of the City of Westminster.

The identity of Guinness's father has never been officially confirmed. [3] From 1875, under English law, when the birth of an illegitimate child was registered, the father's name could be entered on the certificate only if he were present and gave his consent. Guinness himself believed that his father was a Scottish banker, Andrew Geddes (1861–1928), who paid for Guinness's public school education at Fettes College. Geddes occasionally visited Guinness and his mother, posing as an uncle. [4] Guinness's mother later had a three-year marriage to a Scottish army captain named Stiven; his behaviour was often erratic or even violent. [5] [6]

Public school (United Kingdom) Type of independent school in England and Wales

A public school in England and Wales traditionally refers to one of seven schools given independence from direct jurisdiction by the Public Schools Act 1868: Charterhouse, Eton College, Harrow School, Rugby School, Shrewsbury School, Westminster School, and Winchester College. These were all-male boarding schools, but many now accept day pupils as well as boarders, and the 'public school' label now includes two day schools, St Paul's and the Merchant Taylors'.

Fettes College private school in Edinburgh, Scotland

Fettes College is a private co-educational independent boarding and day school in Edinburgh, Scotland, with over two-thirds of its pupils in residence on campus. The school was originally a boarding school for boys only and became co-ed in 1983. In 1978 the College had a nine-hole golf course, an ice-skating rink used in winter for ice hockey and in summer as an outdoor swimming pool, a cross-country running track and a rifle shooting range within the forested 300-acre grounds. Fettes is sometimes referred to as a public school, although the term is traditionally used in Scotland for state schools. The school was founded with a bequest of Sir William Fettes in 1870 and started admitting girls in 1970. It follows the English rather than Scottish education system and has nine houses. The main building was designed by David Bryce.

Early career

Alec Guinness at the Old Vic theatre, London in 1938 Sir Alec Guinness - 1938 (1).tif
Alec Guinness at the Old Vic theatre, London in 1938

Guinness first worked writing advertising copy. His first job in the theatre was on his 20th birthday, while he was still a drama student, in the play Libel, which opened at the old King's Theatre, Hammersmith, and then transferred to the Playhouse, where his status was raised from a walk-on to understudying two lines, and his salary increased to £1 a week. [7] He appeared at the Albery Theatre in 1936 at the age of 22, playing the role of Osric in John Gielgud's successful production of Hamlet . Also in 1936, Guinness signed on with the Old Vic, where he was cast in a series of classic roles. [8] In 1939, he took over for Michael Redgrave as Charleston in a road-show production of Robert Ardrey's Thunder Rock . [9] At the Old Vic, Guinness worked with many actors and actresses who would become his friends and frequent co-stars in the future, including Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft, Anthony Quayle, and Jack Hawkins. An early influence was film star Stan Laurel, whom Guinness admired. [10]

Playhouse Theatre theatre in London

The Playhouse Theatre is a West End theatre in the City of Westminster, located in Northumberland Avenue, near Trafalgar Square. The Theatre was built by F. H. Fowler and Hill with a seating capacity of 1,200. It was rebuilt in 1907 and still retains its original substage machinery. Its current seating capacity is 786.

<i>Hamlet</i> tragedy by William Shakespeare

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet, is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1599 and 1602. Set in Denmark, the play depicts Prince Hamlet and his revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father in order to seize his throne and marry Hamlet's mother.

Michael Redgrave English actor

Sir Michael Scudamore Redgrave CBE was an English stage and film actor, director, manager, and author. He received an Academy Award for Best Actor nomination for his performance in Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), as well as two BAFTA Award for Best British Actor nominations for his performances in The Night My Number Came Up (1955) and Time Without Pity (1957).

Guinness continued playing Shakespearean roles throughout his career. In 1937, he played Aumerle in Richard II and Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice under the direction of John Gielgud. He starred in a 1938 production of Hamlet which won him acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. [8] He also appeared as Romeo in a production of Romeo and Juliet (1939), Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, and as Exeter in Henry V in 1937, both opposite Laurence Olivier, and Ferdinand in The Tempest , opposite Gielgud as Prospero. In 1939, he adapted Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations for the stage, playing Herbert Pocket. The play was a success. One of its viewers was a young British film editor, David Lean, who would later have Guinness reprise his role in Lean's 1946 film adaptation of the play. [11]

World War II

Guinness served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in the Second World War, initially as a seaman in 1941, before receiving a commission as a Temporary Sub-lieutenant on 30 April 1942 and a promotion to Temporary Lieutenant the following year. [12] [13] [14] Guinness then commanded a landing craft at the Allied invasion of Sicily, and later ferried supplies and agents to the Yugoslav partisans in the eastern Mediterranean theatre. [15]

During the war, he was granted leave to appear in the Broadway production of Terence Rattigan's play, Flare Path , about RAF Bomber Command, with Guinness playing the role of Flight Lieutenant Teddy Graham. [16]

Postwar stage career

Guinness returned to the Old Vic in 1946 and stayed until 1948, playing Abel Drugger in Ben Jonson's The Alchemist , the Fool in King Lear opposite Laurence Olivier in the title role, DeGuiche in Cyrano de Bergerac opposite Ralph Richardson in the title role, and finally starring in an Old Vic production as Shakespeare's Richard II. After leaving the Old Vic, he played Eric Birling in J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls at the New Theatre in October 1946. He played the Uninvited Guest in the Broadway production of T. S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party (1950, revived at the Edinburgh Festival in 1968). He played Hamlet under his own direction at the New Theatre in the West End in 1951. [17]

Invited by his friend Tyrone Guthrie to join the premiere season of the Stratford Festival of Canada, Guinness lived for a brief time in Stratford, Ontario. On 13 July 1953, Guinness spoke the first lines of the first play produced by the festival, Shakespeare's Richard III : "Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York." [18] [19]

Guinness won a Tony Award for his Broadway performance as Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in Dylan . He next played the title role in Macbeth opposite Simone Signoret at the Royal Court Theatre in 1966. [20] Guinness made his final stage performance at the Comedy Theatre in the West End on 30 May 1989, in the play A Walk in the Woods . In all, between 2 April 1934 and 30 May 1989, he played 77 parts in the theatre. [21]

Film career

Alec Guinness (middle) in the black comedy The Ladykillers Katie johnson ladykillers.jpg
Alec Guinness (middle) in the black comedy The Ladykillers

In films, Guinness was initially associated mainly with the Ealing Comedies, and particularly for playing nine characters in Kind Hearts and Coronets . Other films from this period included The Lavender Hill Mob , black comedy The Ladykillers , and The Man in the White Suit , with all three ranked among the Best British films. [22] In 1952, director Ronald Neame cast Guinness in his first romantic lead role, opposite Petula Clark in The Card . In 1951, exhibitors voted him the most popular British star. [23]

Drawing by Nicholas Volpe after Guinness won an Oscar in 1957 for his role in The Bridge on the River Kwai Alec Guinnes 1957.jpg
Drawing by Nicholas Volpe after Guinness won an Oscar in 1957 for his role in The Bridge on the River Kwai

Other notable film roles of this period included The Swan (1956) with Grace Kelly, in her second-to-last film role; The Horse's Mouth (1958) in which Guinness played the part of drunken painter Gulley Jimson, as well as writing the screenplay, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award; the lead in Carol Reed's Our Man in Havana (1959); Marcus Aurelius in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964); The Quiller Memorandum (1966); Marley's Ghost in Scrooge (1970); Charles I in Cromwell (1970); Pope Innocent III in Franco Zeffirelli's Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972) and the title role in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973), which he considered his best film performance, though critics disagreed. [24] Another role which is sometimes referred to as one which he considered his best and is so considered by many critics, is that of Colonel Jock Sinclair in Tunes of Glory (1960). Guinness also played the role of Jamessir Bensonmum, the blind butler, in the 1976 Neil Simon film Murder by Death .

David Lean

Guinness with Rita Tushingham in Doctor Zhivago Trailer-Doctor Zhivago-Yevgraf and Tonya Komarovskaya.jpg
Guinness with Rita Tushingham in Doctor Zhivago

Guinness won particular acclaim for his work with director David Lean, which today is his most critically acclaimed work. After appearing in Lean's Great Expectations and Oliver Twist , he was given a starring role opposite William Holden in The Bridge on the River Kwai . For his performance as Colonel Nicholson, the unyielding British POW commanding officer, Guinness won an Academy Award for Best Actor and a BAFTA Award for Best Actor. Despite a difficult and often hostile relationship, Lean, referring to Guinness as "my good luck charm", continued to cast Guinness in character roles in his later films: Arab leader Prince Feisal in Lawrence of Arabia ; the title character's half-brother, Bolshevik leader Yevgraf, in Doctor Zhivago and Indian mystic Professor Godbole in A Passage to India . He was also offered a role in Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970) but declined. At that time, Guinness "mistrusted" Lean and considered the formerly close relationship to be strained—although, at his funeral, he recalled that the famed director had been "charming and affable". [25] Guinness appeared in five Lean films that were ranked in the British Film Institute's top 50 greatest British films of the 20th century: 3rd (Lawrence of Arabia), 5th (Great Expectations), 11th (The Bridge on the River Kwai), 27th (Doctor Zhivago) and 46th (Oliver Twist). [26]

Star Wars

Guinness's role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy, beginning in 1977, brought him worldwide recognition to a new generation, as well as Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. In letters to his friends, Guinness described the film as "fairy tale rubbish" but the film's sense of moral good – and the studio's doubling of his initial salary offer – appealed to him and he agreed to take the part of Kenobi on the condition that he would not have to do any publicity to promote the film. [27] He negotiated a deal for 2.25% of the gross royalties paid to the director, George Lucas, who received one-fifth of the box office takings. This made him very wealthy in his later life. Upon his first viewing of the film, Guinness wrote in his diary, "It's a pretty staggering film as spectacle and technically brilliant. Exciting, very noisy and warm-hearted. The battle scenes at the end go on for five minutes too long, I feel, and some of the dialogue is excruciating and much of it is lost in noise, but it remains a vivid experience." [28]

Guinness soon became unhappy with being identified with the part and expressed dismay at the fan following that the Star Wars trilogy attracted. In the DVD commentary of the original Star Wars, Lucas says that Guinness was not happy with the script rewrite in which Obi-Wan is killed. Guinness said in a 1999 interview that it was actually his idea to kill off Obi-Wan, persuading Lucas that it would make him a stronger character and that Lucas agreed to the idea. Guinness stated in the interview, "What I didn't tell Lucas was that I just couldn't go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I'd had enough of the mumbo jumbo." He went on to say that he "shrivelled up" every time Star Wars was mentioned to him. [29]

Although Guinness disliked the fame that followed work he did not hold in high esteem, [28] Lucas and fellow cast members Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels and Carrie Fisher have spoken highly of his courtesy and professionalism, on and off the set. Lucas credited him with inspiring cast and crew to work harder, saying that Guinness contributed significantly to achieving completion of the filming. Guinness was quoted as saying that the royalties he obtained from working on the films gave him "no complaints; let me leave it by saying I can live for the rest of my life in the reasonably modest way I am now used to, that I have no debts and I can afford to refuse work that doesn't appeal to me." In his autobiography, Blessings In Disguise, Guinness tells an imaginary interviewer "Blessed be Star Wars", regarding the income it provided. [30]

In the final volume of the book A Positively Final Appearance (1997), Guinness recounts grudgingly giving an autograph to a young fan who claimed to have watched Star Wars over a hundred times, on the condition that the boy promise to stop watching the film because "this is going to be an ill effect on your life". The fan was stunned at first but later thanked him (though some sources say it went differently). Guinness is quoted as saying: "'Well', I said, 'do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?' He burst into tears. His mother drew herself up to an immense height. 'What a dreadful thing to say to a child!' she barked, and dragged the poor kid away. Maybe she was right but I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of second hand, childish banalities." [31] Guinness grew so tired of modern audiences apparently knowing him only for his role of Obi-Wan Kenobi that he would throw away the mail he received from Star Wars fans without reading it. [32]

Television appearances

Guinness was reluctant to appear on television, but accepted the part of George Smiley in the serialisation of John le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) after meeting the author. [33] Guinness reprised the role in Smiley's People (1982), and twice won the British Academy Television Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the character. Le Carré was so impressed by Guinness's performance that he based his characterisation of Smiley in subsequent novels on him.[ citation needed ] One of Guinness's last appearances was in the BBC drama Eskimo Day (1996). [34] [35]

Awards and honours

Plaque installed by the British Film Institute in the City of Westminster, London in recognition of Guinness's contribution to British cinema Sir Alec Guinness (3984601277).jpg
Plaque installed by the British Film Institute in the City of Westminster, London in recognition of Guinness's contribution to British cinema

Guinness won the Academy Award for Best Actor and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in 1957 for his role in The Bridge on the River Kwai after having been unsuccessfully nominated for an Oscar in 1952 for his performance in The Lavender Hill Mob . He was nominated in 1958 for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, for his screenplay adapted from Joyce Cary's novel The Horse's Mouth . He was nominated for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars in 1977. He received an Academy Honorary Award for lifetime achievement in 1980. In 1988, he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Little Dorrit . He received the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award for lifetime achievement in 1989. [36]

For his theatre work, he received an Evening Standard Award for his performance as T. E. Lawrence in Ross and a Tony Award for his Broadway turn as Dylan Thomas in Dylan. [37] Guinness received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1559 Vine Street on 8 February 1960. [2] Guinness was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1955 Birthday Honours, and was knighted by Elizabeth II in the 1959 New Year Honours. [8] In 1991, he received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University. [38] Guinness was appointed a Companion of Honour in the 1994 Birthday Honours for services to Drama. [39]

Personal life

Guinness married the artist, playwright, and actress Merula Sylvia Salaman (1914–2000) in 1938; in 1940, they had a son, Matthew Guinness, who later became an actor. From the 1950s the family lived at their home Kettlebrook Meadows, near Steep Marsh in Hampshire. The House itself was designed by Merula's brother Eusty Salaman. [40] [41]

In his biography, Alec Guinness: The Unknown, Garry O'Connor reports that Guinness was arrested and fined 10 guineas (£10.50) for a homosexual act in a public lavatory in Liverpool in 1946. Guinness is said to have avoided publicity by giving his name to police and court as "Herbert Pocket", the name of the character he played in Great Expectations. No record of any arrest has ever been found, however. Piers Paul Read, in his 2003 biography, suggests "The rumour is possibly a conflation of stories about Alec's 'cottaging' and the arrest of John Gielgud, in October 1953, in a public lavatory in Chelsea after dining with the Guinnesses at St. Peter's Square." [42] This suggestion was not made until April 2001, eight months after his death, when a BBC Showbiz article related that new books claimed that Guinness was bisexual and that he had kept his sexuality private from the public eye and that the biographies further said only his closest friends and family members knew he had sexual relationships with men. [43]

While serving in the Royal Navy, Guinness had planned to become an Anglican priest. In 1954, while he was filming Father Brown in Burgundy, Guinness, who was in costume as a Catholic priest, was mistaken for a real priest by a local child. Guinness was far from fluent in French, and the child apparently did not notice that Guinness did not understand him but took his hand and chattered while the two strolled; the child then waved and trotted off. [44] The confidence and affection the clerical attire appeared to inspire in the boy left a deep impression on the actor. [45] When their son was ill with polio at the age of 11, Guinness began visiting a church to pray. [46] A few years later in 1956, Guinness converted to the Roman Catholic Church. His wife, who was of paternal Sephardi Jewish descent, [47] followed suit in 1957 while he was in Sri Lanka filming The Bridge on the River Kwai, and she informed him only after the event. [48] Every morning, Guinness recited a verse from Psalm 143, "Cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning". [49]


The graves of Alec and Merula in Petersfield, Hampshire Alec and Merula Guinness graves 2016.jpg
The graves of Alec and Merula in Petersfield, Hampshire

Guinness died on the night of 5 August 2000, from liver cancer, at Midhurst in West Sussex. [50] He had been receiving hospital treatment for glaucoma, and had recently also been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was interred at Petersfield, Hampshire.

Autobiographies and biography

Guinness wrote three volumes of a best-selling autobiography, beginning with Blessings in Disguise in 1985, followed by My Name Escapes Me in 1996, and A Positively Final Appearance in 1999. He recorded each of them as an audiobook. Shortly after his death, Lady Guinness asked the couple's close friend and fellow Catholic, novelist Piers Paul Read, to write Guinness's official biography. It was published in 2002.


1934 Evensong Uncredited extra
1946 Great Expectations Herbert Pocket as an adult
1948 Oliver Twist Fagin
1949 Kind Hearts and Coronets
  • The Duke, The Banker, The Parson, The General, The Admiral, Young D'Ascoyne, Young Henry, Lady Agatha
1949 A Run for Your Money Whimple
1950 Last Holiday George Bird
1950 The Mudlark Benjamin Disraeli
1951 The Lavender Hill Mob Henry Holland
1951 The Man in the White Suit Sidney Stratton
1952 The Card Edward Henry 'Denry' Machin
1953The Square MileNarratorShort subject
1953 The Captain's Paradise Capt. Henry St. James
1953 Malta Story Flight Lieutenant Peter Ross RAF
1954 Father Brown Father Brown
1954 The Stratford Adventure HimselfShort subject
1955Rowlandson's EnglandNarratorShort subject
1955 To Paris with Love Col. Sir Edgar Fraser
1955 The Prisoner The Cardinal
1955Baker's DozenThe MajorTelevision film
1955 The Ladykillers Professor Marcus
1956 The Swan Prince Albert
1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai Col. Nicholson
1957 Barnacle Bill Captain William Horatio Ambrose
1958 The Horse's Mouth Gulley Jimson
1959 The Scapegoat John Barratt/Jacques De Gue
1959The Wicked Scheme of Jebal DeeksJebal DeeksTelevision film
1959 Our Man in Havana Jim Wormold
1960 Tunes of Glory Maj. Jock Sinclair, D.S.O., M.M.Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1961 A Majority of One Koichi Asano
1962 H.M.S. Defiant Captain Crawford
1962 Lawrence of Arabia Prince Faisal
1964 The Fall of the Roman Empire Marcus Aurelius
1965PasternakHimselfShort subject
1965 Situation Hopeless... But Not Serious Wilhelm Frick
1965 Doctor Zhivago Lieutenant General Yevgraf Andreyevich Zhivago
1966 Hotel Paradiso Benedict Boniface
1966 The Quiller Memorandum Pol
1967 The Comedians in Africa HimselfShort subject
1967 The Comedians Major H.O. JonesKansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor
1969Conversation at NightThe ExecutionerTelevision film
1970 Twelfth Night Malvolio Television film
1970 Cromwell King Charles I
1970 Scrooge Jacob Marley's ghost
1972 Brother Sun, Sister Moon Pope Innocent III
1973 Hitler: The Last Ten Days Adolf Hitler
1974The Gift of FriendshipJocelyn BroomeTelevision film
1976Caesar and Cleopatra Julius Caesar Television film
1976 Murder by Death Jamesir Bensonmum
1977 Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi
1979 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy George Smiley 7 episodes
1980 The Empire Strikes Back Obi-Wan Kenobi
1980 Raise the Titanic John Bigalow
1980 Little Lord Fauntleroy Earl of DorincourtTelevision film
1982 Smiley's People George Smiley6 episodes
1983 Lovesick Sigmund Freud
1983 Return of the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi
1984 A Passage to India Professor Godbole
1984EdwinSir Fennimore TruscottTelevision film
1987Monsignor QuixoteMonsignor QuixoteTelevision film
Nominated—British Academy Television Award for Best Actor
1987 Little Dorrit William Dorrit
1988 A Handful of Dust Mr. Todd
1991 Kafka The Chief Clerk
1992Tales from HollywoodHeinrich MannTelevision film
1993 A Foreign Field AmosTelevision film
1994 Mute Witness The Reaper
1996 Eskimo Day JamesTelevision film


Stage credits of Guinness [51] [52]
(London, unless otherwise noted)
1934 Libel! Junior Counsel Playhouse Theatre Non-Speaking Role
1934 Queer Cargo Chinese coolie, French Pirate and English Sailor Piccadilly Theatre
1934 Hamlet Osric and Third Player New Theatre
1935 Noé/Noah WolfNew Theatre
1935 Romeo and Juliet Sampson and ApothecaryNew Theatre
1936 The Seagull Workman then YakovNew Theatre
1936 Love's Labour's Lost Boyet The Old Vic Start of a season with the Old Vic Company; September 1936-April 1937.
1936 As You Like It Le Beau and WilliamThe Old Vic
1936 The Witch of Edmonton Old ThorneyThe Old Vic
1937HamletOsric and ReynaldoThe Old Vic
1937 Twelfth Night Sir Andrew AguecheekThe Old Vic
1937 Henry V ExeterThe Old Vic
1937HamletOsric, Player Queen and Reynaldo Elsinore Castle, Helsingør, Denmark Put on by the Old Vic Company at Elsinore Castle
1937 Richard II Aumerle and The Groom Queen's Theatre Start of a Season with John Gielgud's Company at the Queen's Theatre, September 1937-May 1938.
1937 The School for Scandal SnakeQueen's Theatre
1938 The Three Sisters FedotikQueen's Theatre
1938 The Merchant of Venice LorenzoQueen's Theatre
1938 The Doctor's Dilemma Louis Dubedat Richmond Theatre
1938 Trelawny of the Wells Arthur GowerThe Old VicStart of a Season with the Old Vic Company. September to December 1938.
1938HamletHamletThe Old Vic
1938 The Rivals Bob AcresThe Old Vic
1939HamletHamletThe Old VicStart of Tour of Europe and Egypt with the Old Vic Company. January to April 1939.
1939Henry VChorusThe Old VicTour
1939The RivalsBob AcresThe Old VicTour
1939Libel!Emile FlordanThe Old VicTour
1939 Macbeth Macbeth Sheffield Playhouse, Sheffield
1939 The Ascent of F6 Michael RansomThe Old Vic
1939 Romeo and Juliet Romeo Perth Theatre, Perth, Scotland Part of the first Perth Scottish Theatre Festival
1939 Great Expectations Herbert Pocket Rudolf Steiner Hall Version adapted by Guinness from Charles Dickens novel; Performed by The Actor's Company, a group Guinness had formed with George Devine and Marius Goring.
1940Cousin MurielRichard Meilhac Globe Theatre
1940 Saint Joan The Dauphin Palace Theatre
1940 The Tempest FerdinandThe Old Vic
1940 Thunder Rock CharlestonTour of England
1940 Flare Path Fl. Lt. Graham Henry Miller's Theatre, New York City, United States Was temporarily released from his war service to perform in this production.
1946 The Brothers Karamazov Mitya Lyric Theatre Adapted by Guinness from Fyodor Dostoevsky.
1946 The Vicious Circle [53] Garcin Arts Theatre
1946 King Lear The FoolNew TheatreStart of a Season with the Old Vic Company at the New Theatre. September 1946 – May 1947.
1946 An Inspector Calls Eric BirlingNew Theatre
1946 Cyrano De Bergerac De GuicheNew Theatre
1947 The Alchemist Abel DruggerNew Theatre
1947 Richard II Richard II New TheatreStart of a Season with the Old Vic Company at the New Theatre. September 1947-May 1948.
1947Saint JoanThe DauphinNew Theatre
1948 The Government Inspector KhlestakovNew Theatre
1948 Coriolanus Menenius AgrippaNew Theatre
1948 Twelfth Night -New TheatreDirector only for the Old Vic Company at the New Theatre. September 1948.
1949The Human TouchDr. James Simpson Savoy Theatre
1949 The Cocktail Party Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland.
1950 The Cocktail Party Sir Henry Harcourt-ReillyHenry Miller's Theatre, New York City, USA
1951HamletHamletNew TheatreThis production was also directed by Guinness.
1952Under the Sycamore TreeThe Ant Scientist Aldwych Theatre
1953 Richard III Richard III Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ontario, Canada Start of a Season at the Stratford Festival. July to September 1953.
1953 All's Well That Ends Well King of FranceStratford Festival, Stratford, Ontario, Canada
1954The PrisonerThe CardinalGlobe Theatre
1954Hotel ParadisoBoniface Winter Garden Theatre
1960 Ross Aircraftman Ross / T.E. Lawrence Theatre Royal Haymarket Evening Standard Theatre Awards – Best Actor
1963 Exit the King Berenger the FirstRoyal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh and Royal Court Theatre
1964 Dylan Dylan Thomas Plymouth Theatre, New York City, USA Drama League Awards-Distinguished Performance Award; Tony Awards- Best Actor
1966 Incident at Vichy Von Berg Phoenix Theatre
1966MacbethMacbethRoyal Court Theatre
1967 Wise Child Jock Masters/Mrs. Artminster Wyndham's Theatre
1968The Cocktail PartySir Henry Harcourt-Reilly Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester, Sussex, Wyndham's Theatre, Theatre Royal HaymarketProduction was also directed by Guinness.
1970Time out of MindJohn Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, Surrey.
1971 A Voyage Round My Father FatherTheatre Royal Haymarket
1973 Habeas Corpus Dr. WicksteadLyric Theatre
1975A Family and a FortuneDudley Apollo Theatre
1976Yahoo Dean Swift Queen's TheatreAdapted by Guinness from the works of Jonathan Swift.
1977The Old CountryHilaryQueen's Theatre
1984 Merchant of Venice Shylock Chichester Festival Theatre
1988 A Walk in the Woods Andrey Botvinnik Comedy Theatre

Box office ranking in Britain

For a number of years, British film exhibitors voted Guinness among the most popular stars in Britain at the box office via an annual poll in the Motion Picture Herald.

See also

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  • Chambers, Colin. Continuum Companion to Twentieth Century Theatre. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002. ISBN   0-8264-4959-X.
  • Guinness, Alec. A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, 1996–1998. London: Penguin Books, 2001. ISBN   978-0-14-029964-9.
  • Guinness, Alec. Blessings in Disguise. New York: Knopf. ISBN   0394552377.
  • Guinness, Alec. My Name Escapes Me. London: Penguin Books, 1998. ISBN   978-0-14-027745-6.
  • O'Connor, Garry. Alec Guinness: The Unknown London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 2002. ISBN   0-283-07340-3.
  • Pearce, Joseph. Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief. London: Ignatius Press, 2006. ISBN   978-1-58617-159-9.
  • Read, Piers Paul. Alec Guinness: The Authorised Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN   978-0-7432-4498-5.
  • Taylor, John Russell. Alec Guinness: A Celebration. London: Pavilion, 2000. ISBN   1-86205-501-7.