Acting world pays tribute to a gentleman of horror

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The Independent Online
It was the memorial service to which he believed no one would come. But yesterday the great and the good of the acting world braved the bitter wind to pay their respects to the horror star Peter Cushing.

Their tribute was for a man who spent much of his career acting out horrible and macabre fantasies yet exemplified gentlemanliness, gentleness and generosity in his private life.

His character was summed up before the service by Christopher Lee, who played the monster to Cushing's Frankenstein. "He was a wonderful man, a marvellous actor, and a great human being."

Cushing died in August aged 81 after starring in a series of Hammer films including The Curse of Frankenstein and The Brides of Dracula. He played Winston Smith in the chilling TV production of 1984 and, despite being diagnosed of cancer and given monthsto live in 1979, lived on for another 15 years.

Those who attended the service in the actors' church of St Paul's, Covent Garden, included Richard Briers and Paul Eddington, stars of The Good Life, Joanna Lumley, and Donald Sinden. He was, said Ms Lumley, an "enchanting and a meticulous actor". Mr Briers told the waiting press: "He was a very special man; old-fashioned; a gentleman."

The service was hushed and gentle, but with the playfulness which characterised the man who more than anyone else defined the horror - or, as he preferred to call it, the fantasy film genre.

In an address, the actor James Bree recalled his love of board games, which was so compulsive that Waddington used to send Cushing and his wife Helen new products to try out. "During dinner we would play word games, and after dinner we would play board games," he said. "Peter had a great gift for comedy. He was the first British star."

But Cushing's life was darkened when his adored wife Helen, whom he married in 1943, died of cancer in 1971. In his 1986 autobiography he explained life "as I knew and loved it" stopped with her death. They were childless.

"After Helen died it was difficult to accept he no longer wanted to see his friends. We were first to learn we had to stay away and not even offer comfort," Mr Bree recalled.

"He is now in peace. He is free from physical pain and mental anguish. In death he is reunited with his beloved wife Helen. So let us please rejoice for all his achievements, his talent, the great pleasure he gave and still gives, and for him as a person, no matter how private he wished to be."

His friend and producer dating back to Hammer days, Kevin Francis, struck a lighter note as he spoke of Mr Cushing's gaiety and innocence and said that he believed he never really grew up.

"He went for life with a Peter Pan-ish quality," he said. "In his later years he would talk about death, he wasn't upset by it. He asked if anybody would come to his memorial service. I told him: `It's free. You know these theatricals, if you're giving it away they'll always come.' "