Obituary: Denholm Elliott

As an actor and as a man Denholm Elliott had the gifts of both pathos and wit, writes Bruce Hyman (further to the obituary by David Shipman, 7 October). His sense of humour was wicked, but he also gave his characters an air of sadness, of pain and complexity which distinguished him from that generation of cool well-spoken Englishmen.

This was a quality somehow present in all 'DH' 's work, and nowhere more so than in his majestic award-winning performance as Robert, the ageing actor, in David Mamet's A Life In The Theatre at the Haymarket in 1989. It was to be his last performance on stage and one that earned him as much praise from the critics as from his own friends and colleagues. Unusually for the West End, there were Sunday matinees, and these performances soon became like Equity open meetings as actors who were busy throughout the week converged on the Haymarket to witness this great artist at the peak of his powers.

Once a visitor backstage congratulated him on his triumphant reviews; 'Yes', he replied wistfully, 'I just wish my old Dad was here to see them. . . he always said I wouldn't really make it until I was 60.'

Denholm took the part because he liked it: he rarely, if ever, did a job for the money, although if foreign travel was involved it certainly helped. Towards the end of the run at the Haymarket he confided in his young co-star Sam West that he had just turned down a 10-week film. Amazed, West asked why. 'Well you see it's not filming in Bali, and that's where I want to go next.' Denholm actually spent very little time in England. He lived with his wife, Susan, in the hills of Ibiza for over 20 years, in a house he adored with a garden he had created. It was there that he was happiest and when not working or travelling to exotic places he always returned to Ibiza. At the Haymarket he even told the management that if the Sunday matinee finished half an hour earlier he would be able to catch the last flight home and be back in time for the Tuesday performance.

He will be remembered as a man possessed of a great passion for life. A private man, but someone who enjoyed his life and his success. He died, as he knew he would, comfortably and at home, and having requested that after his death his ashes be scattered over the garden he so loved.

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