Bob Anderson, fencing master and coach to Hollywood actors, dies at 89

Bob Anderson, 89, a fencing master who coached British Olympians before becoming Hollywood’s premier choreographer of sword-fighting, tutoring the likes of Sean Connery, Errol Flynn and Lindsay Lohan in the art of the blade, died Jan. 1 at a hospital in West Sussex, England.

His death was confirmed by Philip Bruce, the president of the British Academy of Fencing.

For more than six decades, Mr. Anderson’s talents both as fencer and teacher were on display in many of the most swashbuckling of all Hollywood action epics. Thrust and parry, the clang of steel on steel, through corridors, up and down stairways of medieval castles — Mr. Anderson showed some of the world’s best-known actors how to do it.

Mr. Anderson secretly earned an enduring place in cinematic lore as the man behind the mask and light saber of archvillain Darth Vader in two “Star Wars” films.

Mr. Anderson’s role as Vader’s on-screen stunt double in the epic light saber battles of “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Return of the Jedi” (1983) went uncredited.

In “Empire,” it is Mr. Anderson who severs the right hand of Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, in the climactic scene where Vader, voiced by James Earl Jones, says to Luke, “I am your father.”

During a 1983 interview, Hamill revealed that Mr. Anderson had stepped in for actor David Prowse for Vader’s light saber fights.

“Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition,” Hamill told Starlog magazine, noting that he had told director George Lucas it had been unfair to keep Mr. Anderson’s contribution secret.

Mr. Anderson’s career in films as a stunt double and sword master began in the 1950s and continued into the 2000s. He enjoyed pointing out that after editing a film for certain sequences, he sometimes ended up on both ends of a duel — occasionally fighting himself to the death.

His credits included “The Princess Bride” (1987), the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2000s), and a 1998 remake of “The Parent Trap,” for which Mr. Anderson instructed a freckly-faced youth — Lohan.

He trained the rapier-rattling heroes played by Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland for “The Three Musketeers” (1993). He was Connery’s double in “Highlander” (1986). He perfected the swordsmanship of Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in “Pirates of the Carribbean” (2003).

“The sword is the ultimate weapon,” Mr. Anderson told the Los Angeles Times in 1995.

“It’s not so threatening shooting at someone 20 or 30 paces away or while hiding behind things. When you get into a sword fight, you’re standing toe-to-toe with someone who’s trying to kill you and you’re looking him in the eye — now that’s thrilling.”

For a revival of the Zorro franchise, Mr. Anderson taught Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

“We used to call him Grumpy Bob on the set, he was such a perfectionist,” Martin Campbell, director of “The Mask of Zorro” (1998) and “The Legend of Zorro” (2005), told the New York Times in 2001. “He was incredibly inventive and also refused to treat any of the actors as stars. They would complain about the intensity of the training, but having worked with him there’s nobody I’d rather use.”

Robert James Gilbert Anderson was born Sept. 15, 1922, in Hampshire, England. Survivors include his wife, Pearl, and three children.

He started fencing during a stint in the British Royal Marines during World War II and earned a number of championships during his military service. He competed for Britain in the 1952 Olympics at Helsinki, where his team tied for fifth in the saber event.

After leaving the military, he was named coach of the British national team and led his team to six consecutive Olympic games, including silver-medal-winning appearances in Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964.

His work in filmmaking began in 1953 when he appeared in “The Master of Ballantrae” as a stunt double opposite Flynn. While rehearsing one duel, Mr. Anderson accidentally cut Flynn on the thigh.

Although Flynn claimed responsibility for the mistake, Mr. Anderson was known for a short time around Hollywood film sets as “the man who stabbed Errol Flynn.”

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