Embodiment of evil who was simply a softie

Donald Pleasence graced both stage and screen. Simon Midgley reports
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The Independent Online
Donald Pleasence, the actor, died at his home in the south of France at the age of 75

early yesterday morning. Having recently undergone a minor heart operation, he was about to go on holiday to Florida.

With his staring eyes, bald head and air of brooding menace, Pleasence was best known for sinister, disturbing or villainous roles in films and for his award-winning performance as the tramp in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker.

In a stage and screen career spanning 55 years, his roles included Dr Crippen, Himmler and James Bond's arch foe Ernest Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.

Pleasence had just completed Halloween 6 and was planning to do Halloween follow ups every second year for the foreseeable future.

Yesterday his agent for 32 years, Joy Jameson, said the actor was probably most proud of having played the definitive derelict Davies in The Caretaker in 1960 when he was 40, and then again when 70.

"If you had asked Donald what was the acme of his career I think he probably would have said both performances of The Caretaker," Ms Jameson said.

"Everybody has this idea of Donald as a steely eyed hard man but he was a softy and generous to a fault. Nobody can replace Donald. He is irreplaceable."

His close friend David Giles, who directed Pleasence in the BBC's acclaimed Barchester Chronicles, said that he was a great, but undervalued, actor.

"He played many villains because he played them so well - he could look amazingly malevolent although he was one of the least malevolent people I have ever met.

"He was never properly appreciated, perhaps because his height was against him or because he never played any of the great classic parts, although he was wonderful on stage."

Michael Winner, the film director and a friend for many years, said: "He was one of the finest character actors Britain has ever produced.

"He had a terrific love of life. The day always brightened up when you met Donald. It seems that people who often play villains are in life exactly the opposite."

Born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, Pleasence had no formal training as an actor and started his career in repertory stage companies. Although he threw himself into roles, Pleasence often said he did not enjoy acting, describing it as a "compulsive thing".

He served with the Royal Air Force in the Second World War, was shot down and spent the last year of the war in a German prison camp.

Pleasence, who was married four times, leaves a widow, Linda Woollam, and five children. He was awarded the OBE in 1993 and listed his recreation in Who's Who as "talking too much".

Obituary, page 16

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