The comic who just wanted to play piano

Brain disease claims British star who made it to Hollywood, via anti-Establishment comedy and piano clubs
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The Independent Online

Dudley Moore's sense of inferiority framed his career. His diminutive stature, humble roots and feelings of childhood rejection drove his art. "If I'd been able to hit somebody in the nose, I wouldn't have been a comic," he once said.

From the doubts of youth, Moore rose to earn worldwide renown as "Cuddly Dudley"; first from his partnership with the late Peter Cook, and later as an unlikely figure of Hollywood romance.

But after the highs came the decline. By the time of his death, Moore was almost as well-known for his four failed marriages and turbulent lifestyle as his undoubted talent as a comic and musician.

In one of his last public appearances, Moore was appointed a CBE at Buckingham Palace and the ravages of his degenerative brain condition were clear. Little more than four months later, he died, aged 66, of pneumonia as a result of the disease, progressive supranuclear palsy.

Moore, born in Dagenham, east London, cut a very different figure from his latter days when he rose to fame in the Sixties appearing in Beyond the Fringe with Peter Cook, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller.

His double act with Cook then became a comic fixture during the rest of the decade, as cloth-capped downbeat Londoners who sat for hours discussing the meaning of life.

These were followed by the Derek and Clive sketches, suitably risqué to annoy the Establishment that had been so frequently lampooned.

Moore, the son of a railway engineer, was also a gifted, dedicated pianist who performed concerts across America.

He said his ambition was to play the piano better and if he had to choose between music and acting, music would win. The piano was, he claimed, his best way of expressing himself.

In his heyday, he appeared on Broadway and in the West End, as well as in Royal Command Performances. He also appeared with some of the top jazz bands, including John Dankworth's.

He became an instant Hollywood hit in the 1979 film 10, in which he played a musician determined to marry a perfect woman. He received an Oscar nomination for best actor for his role as a hard-drinking millionaire in the 1981 film Arthur.

However, the big screen dreams of a perfect marriage eluded him in life. In 1968, he married the divorced model and actress, Suzy Kendall. They parted in 1972. Brief unions followed with actresses Tuesday Weld and Brogan Lane. He married – and divorced – once more to Nicole Rothschild.

His film career, too, had ground to a halt after his Eighties peak and he was fired from Barbara Streisand's film The Mirror Has Two Faces because he could not remember his lines. Losing the role, he said, was "devastating".

In the 1990s, Moore seemed to suffer one illness after another. He underwent open-heart surgery and suffered a series of strokes.

Moore – who has two sons, one from his second marriage, the other nearly 20 years later from his fourth marriage – appeared as if drunk in public. In fact it was the effects of the brain problem.

He decided to make his condition public in September 1999 when he saw his prowess at the keyboard leaving him.

However, he occasionally found an air of humour even in the darkest of hours, wracked by the disorder. Announcing his illness, he said: "I understand that one person in 100,000 suffers from the disease and I am also aware that there are 100,000 members of my union, the Screen Actors Guild, who are working every day.

"I think, therefore, it is in some way considerate of me that I have taken on the disease for myself, thus protecting the remaining 99,999 members from this fate."