1949-06-14

SIR ANTONY SHER KBE was a British actor of South African origin born on this date (d: 12/2021); Sher was twice a Laurence Olivier Award winner and a four-time nominee, who joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982 and toured in many roles, as well as appearing on film and TV, and working as a writer and theatre director.

In 2001, Sher played the role of the composer Gustav Mahler in Ronald Harwood’s play Mahler’s Conversion, about Mahler’s decision to renounce his Jewish faith prior to his appointment as conductor and artistic director of the Vienna State Opera House in 1897.

Speaking about the role to The Guardians Rupert Smith, Sher revealed: “When I came to England in 1968, at 19, I looked around me and I didn’t see any Jewish leading men in the classical theatre, so I thought it best to conceal my Jewishness. Also, I quickly became conscious of apartheid when I arrived here, and I didn’t want to be known as a white South African. I was brought up in a very apolitical family. We were happy to enjoy the benefits of apartheid without questioning the system behind it. Reading about apartheid when I came to England was a terrible shock. So I lost the accent almost immediately, and if anyone asked me where I was from I would lie. If they asked where I went to school, I’d say Hampstead, which got me into all sorts of trouble because of course everyone else went to school in Hampstead and they wanted to know which one. Then there was my sexuality. The theatre was full of gay people, but none of them were out, and there was that ugly story about [John] Gielgud being arrested for cottaging, so I thought I’d better hide that as well. Each of these things went into the closet until my entire identity was in the closet. That’s why this play appealed to me so much: it’s about an artist changing his identity in order to get what he wants.”

In 2015 he played Willy Loman in Death of a SalesmanHe also had several film credits to his name, including Yanks (1979), Superman II (1980), Shadey (1985), and Erik the Viking (1989). He starred as the Chief Weasel in the 1996 film adaptation of The Wind in the Willows and as Benjamin Disraeli in the 1997 film Mrs Brown.

Sher’s television appearances include the mini-series The History Man (1981) and The Jury (2002). In 2003, he played the central character in an adaptation of the J. G. Ballard short story “The Enormous Space”, filmed as Home and broadcast on BBC Four. In Hornblower (1999), he played the role of French royalist Colonel de Moncoutant, Marquis de Muzillac, in the episode “The Frogs and the Lobsters”. Sher’s more recent credits included a cameo in the British comedy film Three and Out (2008) and the role of Akiba in the television play God on Trial (2008).

Sher was cast in the role of Thráin II, father of Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson‘s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but appears only in the Extended Edition of the film.

His first partner (for over 17 years) was the actor Jim Hooper. In 2005, Sher and his partner – director Gregory Doran, with whom he frequently collaborated professionally – became one of the first gay couples to enter into a civil partnership in the UK. They married in December 2015, a little over ten years after their civil partnership.

In September 2021 it was announced that Sher was terminally ill, leading his husband Doran to take compassionate leave from the Royal Shakespeare Company to care for him. Sher died from cancer at his home in StratforduponAvon on December 2, 2021, at age 72.