Terribly sad news to start off the new year today, with the announcement that the great British actor Pete Postlethwaite passed away on Sunday, at the age of 64. He’d been working through treatment for cancer in the last year, and died peacefully in hospital in Shropshire on Sunday, according to a friend (via The Daily Telegraph).
Postlethwaite was born in Warrington, Cheshire, in 1946, and started his working life as a teacher, before training as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre school. He came to prominence on stage at the Liverpool Everyman (where he returned in 2008 for his final stage performance, in “King Lear“) and at the Royal Shakespeare Company, before moving into film with a fine performance in Terence Davies‘ classic “Distant Voices, Still Lives.”
This was followed swiftly with roles in Franco Zeffirelli‘s “Hamlet,” David Fincher‘s “Alien³” and Michael Mann‘s “The Last of the Mohicans,” but it was his tremendous, Oscar-nominated turn opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in “In The Name of the Father” that brought him to late-breaking fame; he made a strong impression as Friar Laurence in “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet,” and was one of the highlights of “The Usual Suspects” as lawyer-of-indeterminate-origins Kobayashi.
Steven Spielberg, who once called him the “best actor in the world” (to which Postlethwaite responded with characteristic modesty, “I’m sure what Spielberg actually said was, ‘The thing about Pete is that he thinks he’s the best actor in the world'”), cast him in both “Amistad” and “Jurassic Park: The Lost World,” but he continued to work at home, most notably in the beloved comedy “Brassed Off” — the latter home to one of his finest moments, as seen below.
He worked steadily in the last decade, with stand-out roles in “The Constant Gardener” and on BBC TV, opposite Ben Whishaw in the drama “Criminal Justice.” Wonderfully, he was busier in 2010 than ever before, appearing in “Solomon Kane,” “Clash of the Titans,” “Inception” and “The Town.” The last of these, as the terrifying gang boss Fergie Colm, a wiry pit-bull of a man who pulls apart the flowers in his shops with all the barely restrained fury you’d expect from a professional killer, must count among the actor’s finest performances.
He’ll be seen in the 2011 comedy “Killing Bono,” and there were more than enough performances across his career (this writer was lucky enough to see his astonishing take on Prospero in “The Tempest” at the Royal Exchange in Manchester a few years ago) to ensure that he’ll never be forgotten. He’s survived by his wife Jackie and his children William and Lily.