“Veteran actor Sir Antony Sher has died of cancer aged 72, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has announced.
He was widely regarded as one of the country’s finest contemporary classical actors, with a long association with the company.
Its artistic director and Sir Antony’s husband, Gregory Doran, had taken compassionate leave to care for him.
The company said it was “deeply saddened” by the news.
RSC chair Shriti Vadera said the actor was “beloved” in the organisation “and touched and enriched the lives of so many people”.
“Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with Greg, and with Antony’s family and their friends at this devastating time,” added Catherine Mallyon, RSC executive director and Erica Whyman, acting artistic director.
Sir Antony’s film appearances included Shakespeare in Love and Mrs Brown, while his RSC credits included Richard III and Macbeth. He also appeared in TV series including The History Man and the BBC’s Murphy’s Law.
Once described by Prince Charles as his favourite actor, Sir Antony played many of the great Shakespearean roles, from King Lear to Shylock.
But it was his portrayal of Richard III as a villainous hunchback on crutches which won him an Olivier Award in 1985.
South African-raised Sir Antony joined the RSC in 1982, winning an Olivier Award in 1985 for Richard III.
In his early teens he had elocution classes, which helped him to overcome the shyness he had felt as a boy.
But he almost gave up on his acting career after an early rejection from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) in London.
“That was my beginning in this country and I took the rejections very seriously,” he told The Telegraph in 2018,
“I assumed the examiners knew best, but my mother, who was a very ambitious Jewish woman, was absolutely determined that they were wrong and kept me going. I honestly think I would have given up if it weren’t for her.”
Sir Antony became an honorary associate artist with the company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire.
In 2010, he told the BBC about his first visit to the RSC and described it as one of the most significant experiences of his life.
Five years later, he took issue with Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’ opinion that one needed a university education to properly understand Shakespeare.
“I am sorry, that is nonsense,” said Sir Antony in an interview with the BBC’s Sue MacGregor.
“I never went to university but my job as a Shakespeare actor – and I have done a lot of them now – is to work hard on conveying the meaning.”
He added: “It’s not a university degree you need, it’s the craft of speaking Shakespeare, which we at the RSC work very hard at.”
Sir Antony was knighted in 2000, and in 2005, with Mr Doran, who he met at the RSC, became one of the first gay couples to enter into a civil partnership in the UK.
The RSC said Doran will remain on compassionate leave and is expected to return to work in 2022.
Fellow actor and playwright John Kani said in a tribute: “Both Tony Sher and I were born when our country, South Africa, was the worst place a child could be born, let alone to be raised, by parents who worked very hard to prepare their children for a difficult future – Apartheid South Africa. By the grace of his God and my ancestors, like Romeo and Juliet we found each other in 1973.
“We travelled together as compatriots, comrades in the struggle for a better South Africa, as fellow artists… I am at peace with you my friend and myself. Exit my King. Your Brother.””