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Alec McCowen, a West End and Broadway star, dies at 91

Associated Press logo Associated Press 2/8/2017 By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Alec McCowen, a West End and Broadway star who had global success with a one-man show about the life of Jesus, has died. He was 91.

The actor's nephew, the Rev. Nigel Mumford, said Wednesday that McCowen died Monday at his London home.

Born in Tunbridge Wells, south of London, on May 26, 1925, McCowen trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and performed for troops with the Entertainment National Service Association at the end of World War II.

He performed in London and New York through the 1950s before joining the Old Vic Company — alongside Judi Dench and Maggie Smith —and then the Royal Shakespeare Company.

He was a notable Mercutio in Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet" at the Old Vic in 1960, and a witty Fool alongside Paul Scofield's king in director Peter Brook's "King Lear" at the RSC in 1962.

In 1969, he gained the first of three Tony Award nominations as a failed priest who fantasizes he is the pope in "Hadrian the Seventh."

He also played the psychiatrist who treats a teen accused of mutilating horses in Peter Shaffer's "Equus"; in 1973, he was Henry Higgins opposite Diana Rigg's Eliza Doolittle in "Pygmalion."

A few years later he memorized a large chunk of the New Testament and turned it into an acclaimed one-man performance of "St. Mark's Gospel." He performed it around the world, including at the White House for President Jimmy Carter.

A one-man show about the writer Rudyard Kipling also went to Broadway in the 1980s.

Other major roles included an elderly missionary who returns from Africa to unsettle his Irish family in Brian Friel's "Dancing at Lughnasa" in 1990; a hostage in Lebanon in Frank McGuinness' "Someone Who'll Watch Over Me" in 1992: and Prospero in a Sam Mendes-directed "Tempest" for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1993.

For all his acclaim in classical and dramatic roles, McCowen once said he "I wanted to be an entertainer, not an actor, when I was young. I wanted to be Jack Benny."

Though best known as a stage actor, McCowen appeared in more than two dozen films. He was memorable as a detective in Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy" and played gadget-master Q in the unofficial James Bond film "Never Say Never Again."

McCowen's partner, Geoffrey Burridge, died in 1987. He is survived by his sister and several nieces and nephews.

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