Scottish actor Nicol Williamson has died aged 73, reports The Daily Telegraph. According to his son Luke, the stage and screen actor died of esophageal cancer on December 16. He was best known for his roles in Excalibur and The Exorcist III, as well as a long and much acclaimed stage career.
Williamson was a star turn as Merlin in John Boorman's dark folk fantasy Excalibur, in which he was reluctantly cast alongside former lover Helen Mirren. Boorman's mischief-making paid off: the pair share the best scenes in the film, with Mirren's Morgana and Williamson's wizard playing wittily off against each other. Williamson and Mirren had worked together once before, although much less auspiciously, in a radical staging of Macbeth.
The Hamilton-born actor made his name in John Osbourne's Inadmissible Evidence for which he received great acclaim and, later, a Tony award on Broadway. Osborne later described him as the greatest actor since Brando, a claim another playwright, Samuel Beckett, would corroborate. He was an actor, said Beckett, "touched by genius".
Williamson's last screen outing came in 1997’s comic-book noir Spawn in which he played a demon-cum-mentor to Michael Jai White's superhero. "By the time he'd made Spawn, he was done with it," Luke Williamson told Empire. More recently, he'd worked with his son on musical collaborations that showcased his diverse interests.
The actor's rich and occasionally tempestuous life took him not just to Hollywood, but into the corridors of power. Harold Wilson was so impressed by his performance in Tony Richardson's Hamlet that he commended him to Richard Nixon. The result was an invitation to perform at one of the president's 'Evening at the White House' series.
But Williamson was prouder of his performance as a different kind of politician, in the movie-length adaptation of The Resistable Rise Of Arturo Uri. He played a Hitler-like protagonist in the BBC's potent take on Bertolt Brecht's rise-of-the-Nazis parable. He also spoke fondly of a rare bad guy role alongside Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine in 1975 thriller The Wilby Conspiracy. Richard Lester's Robin And Marian, meanwhile, brought a much-valued opportunity to work with Audrey Hepburn.
The actor, who was known as a straighforward, private man, leaves his son, Luke. "He was the most honest, funny and intelligent man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing," writes Luke on Williamson's official website. "He was my father and words cannot adequately express how proud I am of him."