Theatre offered `total escape'

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The Independent Online

"For me there is no life outside the theatre" - Robert Stephens's own words are as good an epitaph as any. In his last interview, by Georgina Brown for the Independent last weekend, Sir Robert confessed that he had little time for the "real" world. His marriages were disastrous, his parenting skills non-existent by his own admission.

Only acting brought true satisfaction to the towering talent, renowned raconteur, dedicated smoker and fearsome drinker who died yesterday. His reaction to the illness was typical of his view generally on life's slings and arrows: "It's such a fucking nuisance." The stage offered "always a total escape".

His career began at 16 with his discovery of "the lethal cocktail of theatre and sex and it seemed like a very good idea indeed. In my life sex and theatre were always bound up together. It's the way it is, but not for everybody. You're thrown into close contact with people very quickly and it's hard to deal with. I just love the company of women as opposed to the company of men who get on my nerves a bit. . . An actor's life is hedged around with what I choose to call romances."

His first marriage he described as a mistake. "I'd just bumbled along in my usual, amiable manner. I had no plans to be a good husband, or a good father."

Acting was all: "I'm a capricious person. . . But I've never been capricious about my work."

He was hard on those he felt were not equally dedicated. Hugh Grant and Anthony Hopkins used "a one-trick flick, always the same. It's not acting".

For him, there was no life outside the theatre. "It was just theatre, theatre, theatre. I was never bored of it. It's a very rare thing and probably not good. One should have some golfing friends. I never did."