Veteran British actor David Warner has died at the age of 80. The BBC reported Warner had died of “a cancer-related illness” and that his family confirmed the news “with an overwhelmingly heavy heart”.
Warner’s varied career spanned cinema, stage, television and radio. Considered the best Hamlet of his generation on stage, he was drawn to the screen as a character actor, traveling from 1960s British cinema to the sci-fi universes of Tron, Doctor Who and Star Trek to James Cameron’s Titanic, in which he starred the villainous enforcer Spicer Lovejoy.
In a statement to the BBC, Warner’s family said: “Over the past 18 months he has approached his diagnosis with a characteristic grace and dignity… He will be greatly missed by us, his family and friends and will be remembered as kind, generous and compassionate.” Husband, partner and father whose legacy of exceptional work has touched the lives of so many over the years. We are heartbroken.”
Warner was born in Manchester in 1941. His parents were unmarried and he spent time in the care of both, describing his childhood as “troubled” and “chaotic”. His Russian-Jewish father sent him to a series of boarding schools. His mother disappeared from his life when he was a teenager, he revealed.
After school he studied at the renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. From the start, Warner was insecure about his acting skills and appearance. Tall (6ft 2) and slender, he never imagined himself as a leading man. But after joining the Royal Shakespeare Company at the age of 21, he was cast to star in Karel Reisz’s critically acclaimed film Morgan, and the RSC cast him as Hamlet in 1965.
Warner’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s prince as a radical proto-student appalled traditional critics but resonated with younger audiences. “When I was a kid and saw Shakespeare, I never heard the actors because of all the fuss and declamation,” he later said. “I thought the children of today would surely be the same as me and wouldn’t want Shakespeare stuffed down their throats. I wanted them to come back voluntarily.”
After a disastrous production of I, Claudius in 1973, Warner got stage fright. He focused on film acting, often playing villains, such as in Terry Gilliams’ Time Bandits, time-traveling sci-fi Time After Time, and the groundbreaking computer adventure Tron. He worked with Sam Peckinpah on three films: The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Straw Dogs and Cross of Iron. Other significant roles were “The Omen” and “The Man With Two Brains”.
Warner moved to Hollywood in 1987, where he lived for 15 years. During that time, he was a staple on US television alongside Titanic, appearing in everything from Star Trek (he’s played three different characters in the franchise) to Doctor Who, Twin Peaks and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen . In his 70s he was still in demand. He recently played Admiral Boon in the Disney revamped series Mary Poppins Returns. In 2005 he returned to the stage after a 40 year absence playing King Lear in Chichester.