Irish screen actor Milo O’Shea, known for roles in ‘Ulysses,’ ‘The Verdict,’ dies at 86

April 5, 2013

Milo O’Shea, a Dublin-born stage and screen actor known for his famously bristling, agile eyebrows and roles in such disparate films as “Ulysses,” “Barbarella” and Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet,” died April 2 in New York. He was 86.

Irish newspapers reported the death but did not disclose the cause.

Mr. O’Shea appeared in numerous stage productions before coming to wider attention with his first leading screen role, when he played Leopold Bloom in the 1967 film adaptation of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

Mr. O’Shea’s other memorable depictions included playing crazed scientist Dr. Durand Durand in “Barbarella” (1968) with Jane Fonda, the well-intentioned Friar Laurence in Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet,” and the cantankerous trial judge in the 1982 film “The Verdict,” starring Paul Newman.

He made his Broadway debut opposite Eli Wallach in the 1968 play “Staircase,” said to be the American theater’s first effort to depict gay men in a serious way. He was nominated for a Tony Award for that performance, as well as for his role as a complacent, luxury-loving priest in the 1981 play “Mass Appeal.”


Actor Milo O'Shea, in a 2003 photo in New York City. Mr. O’Shea died April 2. (Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

Mr. O’Shea often played priests, both kindly and malevolent, in his long career. He also frequently — and he said, enjoyably — “played Irish,” depicting Irish characters in such films as “The Matchmaker.” In that 1997 romantic comedy, he played the title character, a gently scheming fellow intent on pairing up the residents of an Irish village, American tourists and other visitors.

That character, Mr. O’Shea told the Irish Voice newspaper in 1997, was “filled with love, and that’s how I tried to play him. That’s how I try to play all my characters, no matter who they are.”

Milo O’Shea was born June 2, 1926. His father was a singer, and his mother was a harpist and ballet teacher. He was 12 when he began appearing in plays at Dublin’s well-known Gate Theatre. His father allowed him to go on tour with a theater troupe, expecting the boy to be turned off by the low wages and long hours. Instead, the young O’Shea was more eager than ever.

He made his London stage debut in 1949, playing a pantry boy in John Gielgud’s production of a jewelry theft caper, “Treasure Hunt,” with the British actress Dame Sybil Thorndike. Queen Mary, mother of the current British monarch, was in the audience one night.

The queen went backstage at intermission and stopped to greet the young actor, asking him to tell her where the jewels were hidden, Mr. O’Shea told the Irish Times in 2003. As he hesitated, flustered, Thorndike broke in: “Don’t tell her or she won’t come back” after the intermission.

Mr. O’Shea became a household name in England with a starring role in the 1960s BBC television sitcom “Me Mammy.” His first major film role came in 1967, when he played the cuckolded protagonist Leopold Bloom in “Ulysses,” the groundbreaking novel long considered unfilmable because of its complexity and sexual content.

A decade after Mr. O’Shea played villainous scientist Durand Durand in “Barbarella,” British musicians Nick Rhodes and John Taylor watched the sci-fi film on TV one night. Inspired, they named their new band, with misspellings, after Mr. O’Shea’s character, calling it Duran Duran. The actor later reprised the role, arched eyebrow and all, for the group’s 1985 concert film “Arena.”

Mr. O’Shea moved to the United States in 1976 and became an American citizen. He lived in New York.

Mr. O’Shea had guest roles in popular television series, including “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “The West Wing” and “The Golden Girls.”

— Los Angeles Times

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