3 January 2011

Pete Postlethwaite Has Died at 64 after Battle with Cancer

Pete Postlethwaite, the British actor, died yesterday aged 64. He was known for a huge variety of roles on stage, television and cinema, but success (in terms of global fame) came late in life for him. For years he made appearances in small parts on British television, such as the police action drama The Professionals but his natural and original acting home was the theatre where he was a stalwart for the Liverpool Everyman Theatre as well as the Royal Shakespeare Company.

An unashamed smoker, he died peacefully in his sleep in a hospital in the English county of Shropshire after a lengthy battle with cancer. This is near Bishop's Castle where he and his wife Jackie (a former producer at the BBC) have had their home for many years.  They have two children.

On his last television interview Postlethwaite praised the staff at the hospital for their wonderful support through his illness.

Postlethwaite was born in Warrington, Cheshire and originally trained as a teacher.  He taught drama at a college in Manchester before training as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic School.  Like many young character actors in the 1970s he started his career at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre.  Among his contemporaries there were Anthony Sher, Jonathan Pryce, Bill Nighy and Julie Walters (with whom Postlethwaite had a relationship in the late 1970s).  He went on to appear in many productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

His first screen success was in the film Distant Voices, Still Lives which was released in 1988. Here he played the part of the father of a family shown during the Second World War in the 1940s and its aftermath in the 1950s.  He played a terrible monster, an alcoholic who abused his daughters in this film - one of the standout performance in the cinema of the 1980s.

He then became known to a global audience for his role in In the Name of the Father, for which he received an Academy Award nomination.

Again in this film he played the role of the father, Giuseppe Conlon, Giuseppe comes to London to help his son only for the police to arrest him, and others, under suspicion of supplying the IRA with nitroglycerine.

For many young people he will always be remembered in the role of Friar Lawrence, the well intentioned monk in Romeo and Juliet whose advice leads to the death of the star-crossed lovers.  The 1996 movie, directed by Baz Lurhman and starring Leonardo DiCaprio has been used by teachers of English literature ever since to draw people in to the world of Shakespeare.  Postlethwaite's portrayal of the Friar as confessor, confidante and tragic aide in the events, was one of the stand out performances in the movie.

The iron fist hidden amongst a bunch of magnolias (as it were) was most apparent in his role of the lawyer named Kobayashi in 1995's American neo-noir The Usual Suspects.  Here he was a truly frightening figure.

He became known to much younger audiences for his role as Roland Tembo, a big-game hunter from England. Although sometimes violent, he adheres to his own strict moral code. Steven Spielberg praised the English actor, saying he was the best actor in the world.  When Postlethwaite heard this comment he responded: I'm sure what Spielberg actually said was, 'The thing about Pete is that he thinks he's the best actor in the world.

Offscreen he was somehwhat of a shy and unassuming man who prided himself in the fact that he had never been out of work as an actor in a career which spanned over forty years.  Latterly he was looked up to by many actors, young and old alike, for his superb skill as an actor who could walk on stage and with little more than a shrug, entirely inhabit his role.

His two most recent films, both released in 2010, were Inception and The Town, an action film directed by and starring Ben Affleck.

Here is a short montage of some of the roles Pete Postlethwaite has played over the years.

Pete Postlethwaite - RIP.

Image Credit Wikimedia