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Ten years ago: Alec Guinness

August 5, 2010 |  7:00 am

image from The year before he died, Sir Alec Guinness bemoaned the "worldwide taste for a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities" to which "Star Wars" had given rise. But his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi knight, provided Guinness -- an Academy-Award winner from "The Bridge on the River Kwai" -- with a second fame in a sphere literally worlds apart from the (many) stage and screen roles that had established him as "one of the most flexible actors of the last half-century," as his obituary in The Times put it.

Guinness died in England at age 86, on August 5, 2000. By that time his work had been curtailed for 20 years by health problems; he'd already been a famous recluse, anyway: "A dark horse," said fellow actor and friend Laurence Olivier, "and a deep one." He was also a frenetically versatile actor:

. . . by turns a larcenous bank clerk, a bootlegging genius, a sea-commuting bigamist, a buck-toothed fiend, a middle-aged suffragette, a bullying Scots soldier, a steely European cardinal, a garden editor who liked vegetables more than people, an intellectual ant, a coldly determined master spy, the contents of a cannibal stew, a family of eight, a misguided British sovereign, an artistic bum and the spiritual essence of an interstellar knight.

"One hates," he said long ago, "to let oneself get into a rut."

The full obituary has details on Guinness' uncertain personal origins, his three-role stage debut and the film in which he played that family of eight, as well as unfailingly third-person quotes, like this: "One wonders that one was not stoned to death in the street. . . ."

--Michael Owen

Photo: Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977's "Star Wars." Credit: Associated Press


Alec Guinness, a master of disguise (Feb. 1, 2009)