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Brian Bedford | 1935 - 2016

Note: Brian Bedford Memorial at the Stratford Festival Theatre in Stratford is July 17, 2016 at 10 am.

More news from the Stratford Festival on Wednesday, January 13, 2016: "Just as we were grieving over yesterday’s sad news, another terrible blow has landed. We’ve just heard that Brian Bedford, one of our company’s very brightest stars for the past 40 years, passed away today."
As published and posted on the Internet:

As published in the Stratford Beacon Herald on January 15, 2016.

Brian Bedford an irreplaceable talent

By Beacon Herald Staff

“We shall not see, or hear, his like again.”

Described as one of the defining geniuses of the Stratford Festival, Brian Bedford was remembered Thursday as an inspiration and an irreplaceable talent who was loved and admired by audiences and fellow artists.

His death from cancer Wednesday at the age of 80 dealt a second major blow to the Festival, still mourning the passing of theatrical pioneer William Needles on Tuesday.

“Over the years Brian’s luminous presence on our stages made his performances ‘must sees’ for countless audience members,” Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino said. “We were blessed indeed that he chose to make Stratford his artistic home. And we are bereft to think that we shall not see, or hear, his like again.

“Brian, we thank you, we honour you and we miss you.”

The Festival announced that it will dedicate the 2016 production of Macbeth to Bedford’s memory.

Equally adept at comedy and tragedy, Bedford performed in more than 50 Stratford productions and directed another 20 over 29 seasons.

Cimolino said Bedford was the main reason he went into theatre.

“I saw him in Molière’s Misanthrope, and it made me feel that he embodied the spirit of comedy itself,” he said. “And yet he was entirely himself. Here was an actor who knew who he was and we loved him for it. He was brilliantly witty, completely relaxed, and made us all adore him.

“But to see him in tragedy was another revelation. He was absolutely in the moment, with a strongly personal point of view, a vital intelligence keyed to a modern sensibility.

“When I had the great privilege of working with and eventually directing Brian, I was overwhelmed by his generosity. He became a mentor, a role model and an inspiration.”

He made his Stratford debut in 1975, playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night and Angelo in Measure for Measure, opposite Martha Henry’s Isabella. His Shakespearean credits also include Jaques in As You Like It, Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Richard III, Timon of Athens, Macbeth, and King Lear.

His comic pairings are the stuff of dreams: Benedick to Martha Henry’s Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing; Elyot Chase to Maggie Smith’s Amanda in Private Lives; Charles to Carole Shelley’s Elvira in Blithe Spirit; Garry to Domini Blythe’s Liz and Seana McKenna’s Monica in Present Laughter.

Widely regarded as an authority on Noel Coward’s work, he not only directed and acted in his plays numerous times but he also knew the playwright personally.

His portrayal of the suave sophisticate appeared so effortless that it was almost impossible to reconcile with the reality of his childhood. He was born to a poor family in Yorkshire in 1936. Two of his brothers died of tuberculosis and his father committed suicide.

The young Brian found escape in the theatre and at 18 won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he studied alongside Peter O’Toole, Alan Bates and Albert Finney.

He was a protégé of John Gielgud, who coached him as Hamlet and directed him in the acclaimed Five Finger Exercise. The two shared the stage in 1958, when Bedford played Ariel to Mr. Gielgud’s Prospero in The Tempest.

His star rose quickly in the U.K., with leading roles in The Young and the Beautiful and A View From the Bridge. In 1959, Five Finger Exercise transferred to Broadway, where the play found great success. He had a dozen Broadway credits and a Best Actor Tony to his name when then Artistic Director Robin Phillips lured him to the Festival.

Timon of Athens and The Importance of Being Earnest moved on to Broadway, swelling his Tony nomination tally to seven. The Festival’s 1998 production of Much Ado About Nothing, featuring Mr. Bedford as Benedick and Martha Henry as Beatrice, toured to New York’s City Center, and was recently remembered by Charles Isherwood of The New York Times as one of the great moments in 20th-century Shakespeare performance.

Though he was primarily a stage actor, Bedford could be seen on some of the day’s most popular television shows, including Cheers, Frasier and Murder, She Wrote. He starred opposite James Garner in the 1966 film Grand Prix, and was the voice of Robin Hood in the Disney animated classic.

His most recent Stratford credits included the title role in 2007’s King Lear, Lady Bracknell in 2009’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and his one-man show based on the letters of Oscar Wilde, Ever Yours, Oscar, all three of which he also directed.

His 2013 production of Blithe Spirit would turn out to be his final project at Stratford.

Bedford leaves behind his partner of 30 years, Tim MacDonald, also a Stratford Festival veteran.

Details will follow of a memorial, to be held in Stratford at a later date.

As published in the Globe and Mail website on January 14, 2016.

Stratford Festival veteran Brian Bedford dies at 80

By Victoria Ahearn, Canadian Press
Acclaimed British actor Brian Bedford, a Tony Award-winning mainstay of Broadway and Ontario’s Stratford Festival, has died.

The festival in Stratford, Ont., told The Canadian Press that Bedford died on Wednesday in Santa Barbara, Calif., after a 2 1/2-year battle with cancer. He was 80.

“The doctors were just astounded by his will to live,” said Ann Swerdfager, the festival’s publicity director.

Antoni Cimolino, the festival’s artistic director, said in a statement that “Brian Bedford was the prime reason I went into the theatre.”

Bedford had been ailing in recent years.

In early 2014, illness forced him to pull out of his role as the pope in a touring production of the Vatican mystery thriller “The Last Confession” that visited Toronto. It was a part he said he’d been “really looking forward” to, noting John Paul I was “a very, very sweet, modest, lovely person and I haven’t played that kind of part for a long, long time.”

In June 2013, he withdrew from his role as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” at the Stratford Festival due to “a medical condition.” He also missed shows during the festival’s 2011 season.

Bedford was a fixture in the southwestern Ontario community of Stratford, where he worked at the festival for 29 seasons, acting and directing.

In 2009, he brought down the house directing and starring (in full drag) as Lady Bracknell in the festival’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which moved to Broadway and earned him a 2011 Tony Award nomination for best actor. The production itself won a Tony for best costume design and was nominated for another for best revival of a play.

Bedford’s other Stratford roles included King Lear, Macbeth and Richard III. He also performed his one-man show “Ever Yours, Oscar” in Stratford.

Born in Morley, Yorkshire, England to a postal clerk father and a mother who worked in a weaving mill, Bedford’s childhood was plagued by poverty and illness (two of his brothers died of tuberculosis). After joining an amateur theatre company as a teen, he landed a scholarship to study at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where classmates included Peter O’Toole and Albert Finney.

Bedford’s big break came with “Five Finger Exercise,” which moved from London to Broadway with co-star Jessica Tandy in 1959. He went on to star in more than 18 Broadway productions, winning a Tony in ‘71 for his leading role in “The School for Wives” and netting Tony nominations for several other roles.

Besides Shakespeare, Moliere was another playwright Bedford tackled several times to great acclaim, with productions including “Tartuffe” and “The Moliere Comedies.”

It was in the ‘70s that Bedford first started performing in Stratford. In a 1992 interview with The Associated Press, he said his transformation to classical actor began at the festival when then-artistic director Robin Phillips asked him to perform Shakespeare there.

Getting to play so many leading roles there was “a source of real happiness,” he said.

“It’s one of the consolations of getting older. If you have the luck, as I have had, to get these opportunities, your technique actually improves. And you are able to play these marvellous parts. When you are young, you have all these fabulous ideas, but you haven’t got the technique to realize them.”

While he carved out a reputation for mastering classical roles, Bedford was also known for his sharp timing in comedies. He acted in film and TV, with credits including “Nixon,” “Grand Prix” and “Coronet Blue.”

He’s survived by his partner of 30 years, actor Tim MacDonald, whom he married in July 2013.

The two had a home in Stratford.

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