Antony Sher: Shakespearean scholar struggling with stage fright dies at 72
Antony Sher, one of the most acclaimed Shakespearean actors of his generation, has died aged 72, the Royal Shakespeare Company said on Friday.
Sher had been diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year. Her husband, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Gregory Doran, took time off from work to look after him.
Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1949, Sher moved to Britain in the late 1960s to study drama. He joined the RSC in 1982 and played a decisive role in 1984 as the Usurper King in “Richard III”.
He went on to perform most of Shakespeare’s meaty male roles, including Falstaff in the plays “Henry IV”, Leontes in “The Winter’s Tale”, Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice”, Iago in “Othello” and the characters main in “Macbeth” and “King Lear”.
The non-Shakespearean roles of the company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, the bard’s hometown, included Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s âDeath of a Salesmanâ and the title role in MoliÃ¨re’s âTartuffeâ.
Sher has also performed with the innovative Everyman Theater in Liverpool and in many main theaters in London, securing his first lead role in the West End as a drag artist in Harvey Fierstein’s ‘Torch Song Trilogy’. He won the Olivier Award for Best Actor in 1985 jointly for “Torch Song Trilogy” and “Richard III”.
He won a second Olivier, as well as a Tony Award nomination for playing artist Stanley Spencer in Pam Gems’ “Stanley” at the National Theater and on Broadway.
After being acclaimed as a mainstay of British theater, Sher began to explore both his Jewish and South African heritage.
He adapted Primo Levi’s powerful Auschwitz memoir âSi c’est un hommeâ into a solo show, âPrimo,â which took place on Broadway in 2005.
He created the solo show despite debilitating stage fright.
âIf you suffer from stage fright, is it a good idea to do a one-man show? The answer, surprisingly, turns out to be yes, âSher told The Associated Press in 2005.â This is the best cure for stage fright in the world, because it is decisive. There is no middle ground.
Sher’s last role for RSC came in 2019 in South African writer John Kani’s âKunene and The Kingâ. Sher played a veteran actor diagnosed with cancer, being treated by a black South African caregiver.
Kani, who played alongside Sher, said the two had been “comrades in the fight for a better South Africa”.
On television, Sher played the role of a memorably shady college lecturer in the 1981 BBC series “The History Man”. His film roles include Dr. Moth in “Shakespeare in Love”, Benjamin Disraeli in “Mrs Brown” and Adolf Hitler in “Churchill: The Hollywood Years”.
Sher has also written several novels and theatrical memoirs, as well as an autobiography, âBeside Myselfâ, and has exhibited his paintings and drawings in galleries. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000, becoming Sir Antony Sher.
âI think he always felt like an outsider and his vision as an outsider was his strength,â said Harriet Walter, who starred alongside Sher in âMacbethâ and âDeath of a Salesmanâ.
âHe had abundant creative energy and multifaceted powers and an almost clinical curiosity for what makes people tick,â she said.
Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro said Sher’s performances “deeply deepened my understanding of Shakespeare.”
âHe was a brilliant actor and an incredibly kind and caring person,â Shapiro said. Hamlet said best: ‘Take it all in all, I won’t take it for that anymore. “
Sher and Doran were one of the first couples to have a civil partnership in Britain after same-sex unions were legalized in 2005. They got married in 2015 when the UK legalized same-sex marriage.