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Paul Scofield, an actor for all seasons, dies aged 86

Paul Scofield, one of the best Shakespearean actors of his generation and anintensely private man who shunned the limelight off the stage, has died. He was suffering from leukaemia.

Former colleagues and friends paid tribute to the 86-year-old actor, who played some of the most memorable leads of the 20th century and won an Oscar for his portrayal of Sir Thomas More in the 1967 film adaptation of Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons.

Dame Judi Dench said he was "a great friend and a great man". Simon Callow, who acted with Scofield in another of his most memorable parts, Antonio Salieri in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, said he was "one of the greatest actors in the world. He had a kind of extraordinary physical warmth, almost literally like being near a fire, in a way that I have almost never experienced with another actor. It was a sort of blaze," he told the BBC.

"He had a charisma, a hypnotism, a kind of spell that he cast on an audience, which was an extraordinary thing to negotiate as a young actor. He was an absolutely towering actor."

Gregory Doran, chief associate director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, said: "Scofield was simply one of the greats, creating landmark performances of all the great Shakespeare roles at Stratford, from Hamlet to Macbeth to Lear."

Scofield, the son of a West Sussex village headmaster, began his career on the stage during the Second World War and soon carved out a reputation for show-stopping performances that left audiences spellbound.

But, unlike his Shakespearean contemporaries Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton, Scofield spurned the glamour of Hollywood. He hated giving interviews and returned to the family home as soon as he could after the curtain came down each night. Burton once said of him: "Of the 10 greatest moments in the theatre, eight are Scofield's." A poll of RSC actors in 2004 voted his 1971 portrayal of Lear the greatest Shakespearean performance ever.