Acclaimed stage and screen actor Billie Whitelaw, famously described by Samuel Beckett as the “perfect actress”, has passed away at the age of 82.
On screen the Coventry-born performer will remain a familiar face for many for her roles in the 2006 remake of The Omen, comedy Hot Fuzz and crime drama The Krays, but, perhaps most importantly, she will forever remain a key part of theatrical history, inspiring the great playwright Beckett to write his seminal piece Not I.
The actor first performed the iconic work – most recently brought to the stage by Lisa Dwan – at the Royal Court in 1973, following Beckett’s desire to write something for her to perform after he watched her star in his work Play at the Old Vic Theatre.
It was the start of a long collaboration between the pair, with Beckett directing Whitelaw in productions of Footfalls and Happy Days, and the actress performing Rockaby in both New York and London.
While Whitelaw may be best remembered for her work with the playwright, her illustrious stage career far surpassed just her work with the surrealist playwright. A member of Laurence Olivier’s first National Theatre company, she worked alongside greats including Maggie Smith and Joan Plowright, and starred in numerous productions both with his company and the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company.
While later credits included high-profile productions of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and Passion Play, Whitelaw’s son Matthew Muller said she was “most proud” of the work she had done with Beckett, adding: “He felt she was his mouth piece and he would write plays for her. That’s quite mind-blowing when you think about it.”
Whitelaw passed away in the early hours of Sunday at a nursing home in London.