Sir Nigel, the perfect mandarin and actor, dies of a heart attack

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sir Nigel Hawthorne, who was famed for his embodiment of wily officialdom as Sir Humphrey Appleby in the BBC television series Yes, Minister, died from a heart attack at his home yesterday.

The 72-year-old actor had a stage and film career stretching 51 years but did not achieve public acclaim until he was in his 50s. He had been treated for cancer for the past 18 months. His agent, Ken McReddie, said the strain of the illness might have contributed to the fatal attack. He died at about 9.30am in the 15th-century manor house in Hertfordshire he shared with Trevor Bentham, a theatre manager and screen writer who had been his partner for 22 years.

Mr McReddie said: "Nigel had been battling pancreatic cancer for nearly two years. It was a heart attack, maybe brought on by the strain of it all. He was a brilliant actor and a wonderful friend."

Sir Nigel's repertoire ranged from King Lear to Santa Claus – whom he played opposite Whoopi Goldberg in one of his last roles, filmed in January this year. Although better known for his film and television parts, Hawthorne's natural talent was for the stage. He won a Tony award for his depiction of the writer C S Lewis in a Broadway production of the play Shadowlands in 1991 and a best actor Olivier award in 1992 for The Madness of George III.

His title role in the 1994 film adaptation, The Madness of King George, was what brought him to mainstream audiences worldwide. He won an Oscar nomination for best actor.

Alan Yentob, BBC director of drama and entertainment, said: "He was an awesomely gifted comic actor, a sublime and subtle performerwhose range could effortlessly extend from King Lear to pantomime."

Born in Coventry in 1929 but raised in South Africa, Sir Nigel had described his life as "a struggle for dignity and justification".