Tributes pour in for 'the man of a thousand faces'

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The Independent Online

Tributes to Sir Alec Guinness poured in from the film and theatre world yesterday with actors and directors remembering his unique talent.

Tributes to Sir Alec Guinness poured in from the film and theatre world yesterday with actors and directors remembering his unique talent.

Sir John Mills said Sir Alec, who died on Saturday night aged 86, was one of the greatest character actors and others remembered him as an "all time great".

The star who won an Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai and gained a new generation of admirers with Star Wars died at King Edward VII Hospital in Midhurst, West Sussex, after falling ill at his home near Petersfield, Hampshire.

Sir Alec's career spanned more than 60 years from his professional debut in a walk-on part in the play Libel in 1935.

Ronald Neame, who produced the film versions of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations starring Sir Alec, said he was "shattered" by the news. "He was one of the all time greats of both stage and screen," he said. "He was like a chameleon, he became the character he was playing. He taught me more about acting than anybody else."

Sir Alec showed his versatility as a character actor by playing eight different roles in the classic comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets in 1949. His agent later called him "the man of a thousand faces". But he disowned the remark saying: "It's absolute rubbish. It has plagued me all my life."

His performance as the colonel in The Bridge on the River Kwai led to his knighthood in 1959. But he was also famous for his refusal to play the superstar. "You can only be your own personality and I am just happy to be an actor," he said. "If I tried to swan around, I wouldn't know how to behave. If I tried to be a superstar, I'd be a laughing stock."

He was characteristically humble about his Oscarwinning performance, saying: "I don't look back on it as a great performance."

To younger generations he was most famous for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars trilogy, a role he later professed to despise. Despite the millions he made from the films, he detested the Star Wars phenomenon - "those bloody awful lines" - and the fans that went with it. He once described the dialogue as "frightful rubbish" and said he threw away all Star Wars fan-mail unopened. "I shrivel up every time someone mentions Star Wars to me," he once said.

Despite Sir Alec's antipathy to the films, George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, said: "The world has lost a great artist."

The film critic Barry Norman said: "He was the last in a long line of great actors and belongs there with Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. There aren't any more like him around and he is really destined for legendary status in times to come."

Sir Alec leaves his wife of 62 years, the playwright Merula Salaman, and a son, Matthew.

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