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William Needles | 1919 - 2016

On January 13, 2016 the Stratford Festival announced the death of William Needles: "We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of William Needles, a member of our inaugural company in 1953 and one of our Festival’s most beloved artists for half a century thereafter."

Bill visited PAL Stratford in the summer of 2013 (Photo below).


More details to follow.

As published in the Stratford Beacon Herald on January 14, 2016.

William Needles, Canada's oldest working actor, dies at 97

By Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- William Needles, Canada's oldest working actor who graced the stages of Broadway, London and the Stratford Festival for almost 50 years, died Tuesday at a hospice in Alliston, Ontario, according to a Stratford representative. He was 97.

Needles, a member of the Order of Canada, appeared in more than 100 productions at Stratford over 47 seasons, appearing in everything from "Alice Through the Looking-Glass" to "Henry VI."

"The Stratford Festival has lost one of its pioneers, a gifted actor and a favourite uncle. Bill Needles was the embodiment of grace and generosity. His humour, humanity and sense of fun infused his work on and off the stage," said Stratford's artistic director Antoni Cimolino.

Born in New York and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, Needles studied at the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago before joining the Stratford Festival in its inaugural season in 1953.

He made his Stratford debut in "Richard III," under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie. His last performance at the Festival stage was as Castruchio in 2006's "The Duchess of Malfi."

Needles -- fondly known as "Billie Noodles" -- also appeared in the Broadway productions of "Hadrian VII" in 1969 and played Banquo in a 1961 TV film of "Macbeth" with Sean Connery in the title role.

He was a teacher of acting, serving for many years at the University of California at Irvine. One former student, Jon Lovitz, immortalized Needles with his classic "Saturday Night Live" character Master Thespian.

He is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and five children, Jane, Arthur, Dan, Reed and Laura Ann. The Stratford Festival in Ontario is dedicating the 2016 production of "As You Like It" to Needles' memory.


As published in the Toronto Star, January 13, 2016.

William Needles spent 47 seasons with Stratford Festival

By The Canadian Press

Stage veteran William Needles, a longtime actor at the Stratford Festival who inspired Jon Lovitz’s Saturday Night Live character Master Thespian, has died.

The festival says Needles died Tuesday surrounded by his family at a hospice in Alliston, Ont. He was 97.

Needles suffered a massive heart attack on Dec. 19, but the festival in Stratford, Ont., says his mind remained “razor sharp.”

He was even said to be reciting Shakespeare — the chorus from Henry V — in hospital.

The Kitchener, Ont.-raised actor worked at the Stratford Festival for 47 seasons, was a member of the Order of Canada and taught Lovitz at the University of California, Irvine.

On Twitter, Lovitz called it a “sad day” and praised Needles as “the kindest, nicest man” and “a great actor.”

“I based (my) character Master Thespian a lot on him,” wrote Lovitz. “He was the nicest teacher, ever.”

The Yonkers, N.Y., native got his start as a stage manager in Winnipeg and then as a cast member of the CBC Radio soap opera John and Judy in Toronto. He left the role to serve in the Second World War but eventually returned to it.

Needles joined the Stratford Festival in its inaugural season, making his debut in Richard III. He went on to appear in more than 100 productions there.

He was also a founding member of its company as well as a co-founder of the Actors Fund of Canada.

“The Stratford Festival has lost one of its pioneers, a gifted actor and a favourite uncle. Bill Needles was the embodiment of grace and generosity. His humour, humanity and sense of fun infused his work on and off the stage,” Antoni Cimolino, the festival’s artistic director, said in a statement.

“Bill was a brilliant comedian who could bring the house down with laughter while appearing quite nonchalant. His work seemed effortless. His voice and manner were rich with nuance.”

Cimolino also praised his role as a mentor, noting “his honesty, decency and kindness could balm almost any hurt and sooth a bruised spirit.”

Needles also performed around the world, including in a Broadway production of Next Time I’ll Sing to You with James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons.

His film roles included Banquo in the 1961 production of Macbeth starring Sean Connery.

Needles leaves his wife, Dorothy Jane Goulding, as well as five children, 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His father was Ira Needles, founder of BF Goodrich Canada and co-founder of the University of Waterloo.

A family funeral will be held on Saturday in Alliston, with a burial to follow at Avondale Cemetery in Stratford at a later date.

The Stratford Festival is dedicating the 2016 production of As You Like It to his memory and plans to hold a celebration of his life in the spring.

 
   
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