(L-R) Billy Zane and David Warner in Titanic. [Source: NZ Herald]
David Warner, a versatile British actor whose roles ranged from Shakespearean tragedies to sci-fi cult classics, has died. He was 80.
Warner’s family said he died from a cancer-related illness on Sunday at Denville Hall, a retirement home for entertainers in London.
Often cast as a villain, Warner had roles in the 1971 psychological thriller Straw Dogs, the 1976 horror classic The Omen, the 1979 time-travel adventure Time After Time — he was Jack the Ripper — and the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, where he played the malicious valet Spicer Lovejoy.
Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Warner became a young star of the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing roles including King Henry VI and King Richard II. His 1965 performance in the title role of Hamlet for the company, directed by Peter Hall, was considered one of the finest of his generation.
Gregor Doran, the RSC’s artistic director emeritus, said Warner’s Hamlet, played as a tortured student, “seemed the epitome of 1960’s youth, and caught the radical spirit of a turbulent age”.
Warner also starred in Hall’s 1968 film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opposite Helen Mirren and Diana Rigg.
Despite his acclaim as a stage actor, chronic stage fright led Warner to prefer film and TV work for many years.
He was nominated for a British Academy Film Award for the title role in Karel Reisz’s Swinging London tragicomedy Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment, released in 1966. He later won an Emmy for his role as Roman politician Pomponius Falco in the 1981 TV miniseries Masada.
He had a prolific career on film and TV in both Britain and the United States, and became beloved of sci-fi fans for roles in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, computer movie Tron, Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes, and the Star Trek franchise, where he made several appearances in different roles.
Warner returned to theatre in 2001 after almost three decades to play Andrew Undershaft in a Broadway revival of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara. In 2005 he starred in Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Chichester Festival Theatre, and in 2007 returned to the RSC to play Shakespeare’s comic buffoon Falstaff.
One of his final film roles was as retired naval officer Admiral Boom in Mary Poppins Returns, released in 2018.
Warner’s family said he would be remembered “as a kind-hearted, generous and compassionate man, partner and father whose legacy of extraordinary work has touched the lives of so many over the years.”
“We are heartbroken,” the family said.
They said Warner is survived by his partner Lisa Bowerman, his son Luke, daughter-in-law Sarah, “his good friend Jane Spencer Prior, his first wife Harriet Evans and his many gold dust friends”.