Sir Alec Guinness, ‘the man of a thousand faces’, has died at the age of 86 after a career spanning more than 60 years. Guinness, whose repertoire stretched from Shakespeare to Star Wars, died late on Saturday. The cause of death is believed to have been lung cancer.
Winner of an Oscar for his role in the classic 1957 war movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai, the reluctant star of blockbusters including Lawrence of Arabia was remembered as one of the country’s greatest and most versatile thespians. “He was one of the all time greats of both stage and screen professionally,” said Ronald Neame, who produced Guinness’s first film, Great Expectations, released in 1946.
Speaking of his most famous role, the Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in ‘Star Wars’, Guinness told a British magazine that he had engineered the death of his character to escape having to say ‘those bloody awful lines’. ‘I’d had enough of the mumbo jumbo,’ he said, explaining how he persuaded the film’s director, George Lucas, to have Kenobi killed off by Darth Vader. ‘I shrivel up every time someone mentions ‘Star Wars’ to me,’ he added, scorning the film despite the fact his percentage of the box-office takings made him a multi-million pound fortune.
Guinness, who was knighted in 1960, was renowned for his reluctance to take on the role of a superstar. ‘You can only be your own personality and I am just happy to be an actor,’ he once said. ‘If I tried to swan around, I wouldn’t know how to behave. If I tried to be a superstar, I’d be a laughing stock.’ He was also characteristically humble about his Oscar-winning performance as the Colonel in “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, saying: ‘I don’t look back on it as a great performance.’
Guinness married the playwright Merula Salaman in 1938 and had one son, Matthew.
Those who are only familiar with this great actor’s work in ‘Star Wars’ owe it to themselves to investigate the incredible body of work that this fine craftsman leaves as a film legacy.