One of the West End’s most applauded and acclaimed performers, Paul Scofield, has died at the age of 86. The celebrated actor, considered one of the finest classical performers of his generation, passed away yesterday, 19 March, in a hospital local to his Sussex home. He had been battling leukaemia.
Scofield was best known for his Oscar-winning performance as Sir Thomas More in 1966’s A Man For All Seasons – a role he first played in the theatre – but it was on the London stage that he built a reputation that could sit alongside that of Olivier and Gielgud. In a 2004 survey among actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company, his portrayal of King Lear was named the greatest Shakespearean performance ever.
The son of a Sussex schoolmaster, Scofield began his professional acting training at the age of 17, when he joined the Croydon Repertory Theatre.
In joining Basil C Langton’s touring company in 1942, Scofield found himself taking a huge step both career-wise and in his personal life. In Hamlet he took on the role of Horatio, but also met his wife-to-be, Joy Parker, who was playing Ophelia. The couple married the following year.
Towards the end of the Second World War, Scofield met director Peter Brook, who became both a friend and a colleague. Together they worked on productions including Hamlet, The Family Reunion and the famous King Lear.
Scofield, in fact, worked with many of the directors counted among London’s greatest during his career, which saw him almost ever present in Theatreland between the late 1940s and early 1980s. Directed by Gielgud he appeared in Much Ado About Nothing, Richard II and The Complaisant Lover. Peter Hall directed Scofield in The Government Inspector, Staircase, Macbeth, Volpone, Othello and Amadeus, a production which produced another of Scofield’s most memorable performances, as Salieri.
Scofield’s career saw him work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, at the Royal Court, where he appeared in The Hotel In Amsterdam, Uncle Vanya and Savages.
The actor, whose voice has been compared to a Rolls Royce engine starting, had a reputation of being elusive with the press and was not one to be seen revelling in a celebrity lifestyle. He was, instead, a committed family man.
Honoured for his acting work with a CBE in 1956, Scofield reportedly rejected a knighthood on three occasions, claiming that he already had a title ‘Mr’ and did not need another one. He did, though, become a Companion of Honour in 2001, a level of honour only granted to 65 people at any one time.
Scofield leaves behind his wife and two children.