Simon Ward, 70, star of ‘Young Winston’ and Musketeers films in the 1970s, dies

July 25, 2012

Simon Ward, the fine-boned English actor who experienced a rush of stardom in the 1970s after portraying an adventure-seeking Winston Churchill in “Young Winston” and the jaunty Duke of Buckingham in the popular swashbuckling comedies “The Three Musketeers” and “The Four Musketeers,” died July 20 in London. He was 70.

According to the Daily Telegraph of London, the death was confirmed by a daughter, actress Sophie Ward. The immediate cause of death was not reported, but Mr. Ward had suffered from a blood disorder that he said he developed after brain surgery following a street assault in 1987.

Last year, a virus caused Mr. Ward to withdraw from the role of Alfred Doolittle in a London stage production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” shortly before the opening.

Mr. Ward was a stage actor who appeared in horror films such as “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed” (1969) before director Richard Attenborough and producer Carl Foreman picked him among 400 young actors vying for the role of Churchill.

Lavishly produced, “Young Churchill” (1972) followed the future British statesman and Nobel laureate as a callow schoolboy, a cavalry officer in India and Sudan, and a newspaper correspondent during the Boer War.

Simon Ward, the fine-boned English actor who experienced a rush of stardom in the 1970s after portraying an adventure-seeking Winston Churchill in “Young Winston” and the jaunty Duke of Buckingham in the popular swashbuckling comedies “The Three Musketeers” and “The Four Musketeers,” died July 20 in London. He was 70. (Courtesy of ABC Press Relations) (ABC Press Relations)

“I did an awful lot of research for the part and they used to run old newsreels in the mornings after I’d been in make-up,” Mr. Ward told an interviewer in 2006. “We didn’t want an imitation and I didn’t want to be thought of as thinking I was him. Neither did I want to be regarded as an expert. But when I was doing the publicity tour for the film, that’s what naturally happened when I had to answer questions about him. Everybody seemed to want to talk about Dresden.”

The film received widely varying reviews but most critics agreed Mr. Ward acquitted himself well amid a cast of veteran performers including Anne Bancroft and John Mills. Film critic Pauline Kael wrote of Mr. Ward that “his intelligent impersonation of Churchill from ages 17 to 26 is fun to watch.”

Mr. Ward had a key role opposite Alec Guinness as the German leader in “Hitler: The Last Ten Days” (1973) and appeared in director Richard Lester’s “The Three Musketeers” (1973) and “The Four Musketeers” (1974), based on the novels of Alexandre Dumas pere and co-starring Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Michael York.

In a gently comic vein, Mr. Ward played a novice Yorkshire country veterinarian in “All Creatures Great and Small” (1975), a television special that aired on NBC and was based on the James Herriot book.

After “Young Winston,” Mr. Ward said he was “never feted by Hollywood.” But he also added that he was not ambitious enough to pursue stardom.

“To be a star you have to take yourself seriously and believe you are pretty hot stuff, which I never have,” Mr. Ward told the London Daily Mail in 1995. “If I’d decided to work in Hollywood, I would have end up playing mad viscounts and butlers, which wasn’t what I wanted.”

A car dealer’s son, Simon Ward was born Oct. 19, 1941, in Beckenham, England. He began performing with the National Youth Theatre at 13 and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where his roommate was Anthony Hopkins. His theatrical breakthrough came in the late 1960s as the star of Joe Orton’s farce “Loot” and opposite Guinness in Simon Gray’s dark comedy “Wise Child.”

Survivors include his wife, the former Alexandra Malcolm, and three daughters.

As his movie career slumped in the late 1970s, Mr. Ward increasingly returned to stage work. In recent years, he played the malevolent Bishop Gardiner in the BBC costume drama “The Tudors,” which aired in the United States on the Showtime cable network.

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