Jeremy Brett, 59, the actor who since 1984 had brought the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes to life in 41 episodes of public television's "Mystery" series, died of a heart ailment Sept. 12 at his home.

Tall and dark, with a hawk-like profile and piercing eyes, Mr. Brett seemed made for the part. But the role was a little intimidating at first.

"The hardest thing in the world is to play someone who is almost an ancient monument," Mr. Brett told the Evening Standard of London in 1988.

"I was very nervous when I was offered the part," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1991, "because I was so miscast. I'd played so many romantic heroes. I'm just grateful that it's acceptable. I suppose the ultimate accolade has been from the Sherlock Holmes societies and the Doylian societies. If I'd failed with them, it would have been a total disaster."

Mr. Brett also was reluctant to take the role because he didn't like the character and felt it had been done too many times. Nevertheless, he opted to follow the portrayals of Holmes by such actors as William Gillette, John Barrymore, Peter Cushing, Nicol Williamson and Christopher Plummer -- and he earned the accolade of critics as "the best Sherlock Holmes ever."

When the television series became a hit and he filmed more of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, Mr. Brett didn't worry about being typecast.

"What a part to be typecast in. I can't tell you the difference it's made; it's lovely," he told the Associated Press.

Mr. Brett was born Peter Jeremy Huggins, one of four sons of a British Army colonel, and was educated at Eton and the prestigious Central School of Drama in London. When he took up acting, his father asked him to change his name.

He acted with the National Theater from 1967 to 1971 and did many other stage and television roles before taking on Sherlock Holmes. His films included "Nicholas and Alexandra" and role of Liza's suitor, Freddie, in "My Fair Lady." He was Natasha's brother in "War and Peace."

On television, he played Max de Winter in "Rebecca" and Robert Browning in "The Barretts of Wimpole Street."

Mr. Brett was divorced in 1963 from his first wife, actress Anna Massey, with whom he had a son. He became depressed after his second wife, Joan Wilson, a producer of "Masterpiece Theater" and "Mystery," died of cancer in 1985.

He suffered a nervous breakdown but recovered and went back to his portrayal of Holmes. He had another bout of depression and was hospitalized last year.

After collapsing with heart trouble in 1993 while filming his last appearance as Holmes, Brett said, "I would be risking my heart, head and neck if I was to stick it on the block again playing Holmes."

"He was a great friend and a really remarkable actor," said Edward Hardwicke, who played Holmes's sidekick, Dr. Watson, in the popular series.

"Jeremy brought extraordinary energy to the part and made it his own."

The last series of Sherlock Holmes airs in United States on "Mystery" beginning Jan. 4.