One of the last directors to work with Simon Ward has told of the actor's striking professionalism during “gruelling” performances, despite already suffering from health problems.
Mr Ward, who died in hospital in the company of his family on Friday after a long battle with illness, starred in The Madness of George III with the Original Theatre Company in Autumn 2010.
It is thought to have been his last stage performance.
Director Alastair Whatley has spoken of his great sadness at the news, describing Mr Ward as a “King to the last”.
Mr Whatley said: “It is with great sadness that I heard the news of the death of Simon Ward.
“I had the pleasure of working with Simon on our 2010 production of Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III.
“Already in declining health Simon took on the one of the most challenging roles written in recent years and furthermore agreed to tour with the production all over England to venues often rather off the beaten track.
“I have two abiding memories of Simon, the first was through a rather calamitous dress run immediately prior to our opening night.
“As we neared the end of the play there is a wonderful scene when George III shows signs of recovery whilst reading the words of King Lear.
“Mid way through this scene, the set quite literally collapsed around him, one of the actors playing the courtiers almost in character tried to hold it up - as chaos erupted around the theatre.
“Yet throughout this, Simon continued almost using the ailing set to fuel his performance.
“I remember sitting aghast watching the disaster unfold but then becoming increasingly entranced as through the chaos around him this great actor not only kept going but furthermore gave what was the beginnings of a truly definitive performance - and what's more he never complained.
“Although in pain and in spite of an incredibly gruelling performance schedule Simon never missed a performance as the King from August until December.
“My lasting memory will be what must have been one of his last public performances near his home town in the South West when we played our last show at The Exeter Northcott. To an audience full of his family and friends, he gave a final blistering performance to a standing ovation from audience and cast members alike.
“In truth and in retrospect his performance deserved a better production, but I will always regret that more people didn't get to see him do something truly magical with this great role.
“Yet after the final performance Simon, as is the actor's life, got dressed quietly and very humbly said his goodbyes to the company and stepped out of the Theatre with his wife Alexandra - I never saw him again.
“Modest to the end, quietly brilliant off stage and electric in front of an audience he was also a total gentleman who taught this young director the meaning of the word professionalism and also the meaning of the word respect.
“I will remember Simon's performance as George III, his performances in his many films throughout his long career but above all else, I will remember Simon Ward the man stepping quietly out into the night as great then in that moment as he ever was.
“A king to the very last. I know he will missed by many.”