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Victor Spinetti, Tony winner who appeared in 3 Beatles movies, dies at 82

Victor Spinetti, a Welsh-born comic actor who appeared in three Beatles movies in the 1960s and won a Tony Award for his multiple roles in the ribald antiwar musical “Oh, What a Lovely War,” died of cancer June 19 at a hospice in Monmouth, England. He was 82.

The death was confirmed by Barry Burnett, the actor’s agent.

Mr. Spinetti won a 1965 Tony for best supporting or featured actor in “Oh, What a Lovely War,” which brought elements of a music hall sensibility to a sardonic examination of World War I. Mr. Spinetti played the master of ceremonies, a drill sergeant who growls unintelligible commands and a general. A Time magazine theater critic called him “a marvelously adroit actor.”

While he attracted popular and critical attention in “Oh, What a Lovely War,” Mr. Spinetti became best known for his appearances in the Beatles movies. He played a fey TV director in “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964); the mad scientist Foot in “Help!” (1965); and an army sergeant in “Magical Mystery Tour,” a TV movie released in 1967.

At a London Beatles Day event in 2010, Mr. Spinetti said he was included in the cast of “A Hard Day’s Night” at George Harrison’s insistence. “He said, ‘You gotta be in all our films otherwise me mum wouldn’t come and see ’em, because she fancies you,’ ” Mr. Spinetti said. “That was why I was in.”

On another occasion, he told how his association with the Beatles disrupted the opening night of “Oh, What a Lovely War.”

“I came out onstage and a group of girls at the back screamed, ‘Victor Spinetti, aaaah!’ ” he told AbsoluteElsewhere.net in an interview. “They were shouting things like ‘he’s touched George!’ ”

He said he calmed the screamers by promising to answer questions about the Beatles after the show.

Mr. Spinetti also co-wrote “The John Lennon Play: In His Own Write” with Adrienne Kenney. Based on the writings of John Lennon, it opened in June 1968 in London.

Vittorio Georgio Andrea Spinetti was born Sept. 2, 1929, to an Italian father and a Welsh mother in the mining village of Cwm in south Wales. Regarded as an alien during World War II, he was beaten by two neighbors and lost hearing in one ear.

Mr. Spinetti studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff before moving to London to develop his acting career.

His more than 30 film roles included the part of Hortensio in “The Taming of the Shrew” (1967) and Mog Edwards in “Under Milk Wood” (1972), both films starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He also played the concierge in “The Return of the Pink Panther” (1975), starring Peter Sellers.

Mr. Spinetti was co-author of the script and did two voices for “Romeo, Juliet” — Armando Acosta’s 1990 film that featured 108 cats and the actor John Hurt.

The difficulty with the script, Mr. Spinetti told the Associated Press in a 1988 interview, was blending such things as cats and cars with Shakespeare’s classic verse. “Some cats talk about cars so you have to try to get this into the script without the audience jolting out of their seats. Of course, you cannot rewrite something like the balcony scene,” he said.

— From staff and wire reports

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