Sir Laurence Olivier

One of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century, the English stage & screen actor, director, and producer Sir Laurence Olivier, was born 22nd May 1907. He was also the youngest actor to be knighted and the first to be elevated to the peerage. He married three times, to actresses Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright. Actor Spencer Tracy said that Olivier was ‘the greatest actor in the English-speaking world’.During his long and distinguished career Olivier played a wide variety of roles on stage and screen from Greek tragedy, Shakespeare and Restoration comedy to modern American and British drama. He was the first artistic director of the National Theatre of Great Britain and its main stage is named in his honour. He is regarded by some to be the greatest actor of the 20th century, in the same category as David Garrick, Richard Burbage, Edmund Kean and Henry Irving in their own centuries. Olivier’s AMPAS acknowledgments are considerable: twelve Oscar nominations, with two awards (for Best Actor and Best Picture for the 1948 film Hamlet), plus two honorary awards including a statuette and certificate. He was also awarded five Emmy awards from the nine nominations hereceived. Additionally, he was a three-time Golden Globe and BAFTA winner.

Olivier’s career as a stage and film actor spanned more than six decades and included a wide variety of roles, from the title role in Shakespeare’s Othello and Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night to the sadistic Nazi dentist Christian Szell in Marathon Man and the kindly but determined Nazi-hunter in The Boys from Brazil. A High church clergyman’s son who found fame on the West End stage, Olivier became determined early on to master Shakespeare, and eventually came to be regarded as one of the foremost Shakespeare interpreters of the 20th century. He continued to act until the year before his death in 1989. Olivier played more than 120 stage roles: Richard III, Macbeth, Romeo, Hamlet, Othello, Uncle Vanya, and Archie Rice in The Entertainer. He appeared in nearly sixty films, including William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing, Richard Attenborough’s Oh! What a Lovely War, and A Bridge Too Far, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Sleuth, John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man, Daniel Petrie’s The Betsy, Desmond Davis’ Clash of the Titans, and his own Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III. He also preserved his Othello on film, with its stage cast virtually intact.

For television, he starred in The Moon and Sixpence, John Gabriel Borkman, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Brideshead Revisited, The Merchant of Venice, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and King Lear, among others.Olivier was created a Knight Bachelor on 12 June 1947 in the King’s Birthday Honours, becoming the youngest actor so honored. Nominated by Prime Minister Harold Wilson, he was created a life peer on 13 June 1970 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours as Baron Olivier, of Brighton in the County of Sussex, the first actor to be accorded this distinction. He was admitted to the Order of Merit in 1981, the first actor to be so honoured.

The Laurence Olivier Awards, organised by The Society of London Theatre, were renamed in his honour in 1984.Though he was a knight, a life peer, and one of the most respected personalities in the industry, Olivier insisted he be addressed as “Larry”, which he made clear he preferred to “Sir Laurence” or “Lord Olivier”. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Olivier among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, at number 14 on the list. Sadly Olivier died at his home in Steyning, West Sussex, England, from renal failure on 11 July 1989. He was survived by his son Tarquin from his first marriage, as well as his wife Joan Plowright and their three children. He was cremated and his ashes interred in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, London. Olivier is one of only a few actors, along with David Garrick, Henry Irving, Ben Jonson and Sybil Thorndike to have been accorded this honour. Olivier is buried alongside some of the people he portrayed in theatre and film, for example King Henry V, General John Burgoyne and Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding. Fifteen years after his death, Olivier once again received star billing in a film. Through the use of computer graphics, footage of him as a young man was integrated into the 2004 film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow in which played the villain.

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