Victor Spinetti, actor and star of Beatles films, dies
- 19 June 2012
- From the section Wales
Victor Spinetti, Welsh-born star of stage and screen, has died at the age of 82.
Born to an Italian-Welsh father and Welsh mother in Cwm, Ebbw Vale, he was a regular performer in London's West End as well as with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
He appeared in more than 30 films, including the Beatles' movies and Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
He had been diagnosed with cancer.
Spinetti's agent, Barry Burnett, said: "He had cancer for a year, but he was very cheerful to the end. I spoke to him on Friday and he was talking about his plans and everything."
News of his death prompted a stream of tributes from fans and members of the entertainment world on Twitter.
Actor Rob Brydon tweeted: "So sad Victor Spinetti has died. The funniest story teller I've ever met and a lovely warm man. Proud to have been his friend. 'Eh, Vic...'"
Britt Ekland, actor and singer, wrote: "Just heard my wonderful friend, co writer and director Victor Spinetti died. Am devastated to have lost a true acting genius."
Welsh actor Sian Phillips told BBC Wales she was shocked and saddened, adding: "He was such a force of joy and vitality. When one saw him across a crowded room, one couldn't wait to get together with him and have a chat and a catch-up."
Barbara Windsor, his co-star in the West End stage play Oh! What a Lovely War which transferred to Broadway and a lifelong friend, had visited Spinetti last Thursday.
"We were very close. He was another of my great friends from that era. He was such a great man," she said.
"We just chatted and chatted and talked about old things. But he said, 'let's not talk about all that, let's talk about the future'.
"What he was trying to say was that everything was happy in his room. I was happy to see him. He didn't look ill. He looked great. He was swearing a lot, like that would get rid of the illness, and we just laughed."
Spinetti had recently appeared on her two-part radio series Clubland, and she wanted to play it for him.
"I got the nurses to wake him up to hear it," said Windsor.
"Some of the nurses didn't know who he was so I wanted them to hear it too.
He was part of my life and I'm going to miss him so much. We'd go out for lunch and have a great gossip together.
"He was such a good actor because he took notice of people and used their characters. He portrayed them wonderfully, whatever he did."
Spinetti was born in the living quarters above the chip shop his family owned in Cwm, Ebbw Vale. He attended Monmouth School and initially had ambitions to be a teacher.
But after turning to acting he studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff.
His early stage career saw him make a number of memorable performances with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, whose production of Oh, What a Lovely War! transferred to the West End and Broadway.
It was his performance in Oh, What a Lovely War! that prompted the Beatles to ask him to appear in A Hard Day's Night (1964), the first of the group's five films.
It is suggested George Harrison told Spinetti that he had to be in the film because "me mum will only go to see them if you're in them".
Spinetti's collaboration with the Beatles saw him appear in their next two productions, Help! (1965) and the hour-long television film Magical Mystery Tour (1967).
He also worked with John Lennon to turn Lennon's book, In His Own Write, in to a play which he then directed at the National Theatre.
Sir Paul McCartney described him as "the man who makes clouds disappear".
His stage career saw him win a Tony award for his Broadway performance in Oh, What a Lovely War!, as well as co-starring with Jack Klugman when The Odd Couple toured London.
His film career included starring in Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew, again alongside Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and The Return of the Pink Panther as well as The Krays in 1990.
In his television career, he is perhaps best known for voicing the arch villain character Texas Pete in the S4C animated series SuperTed.
Spinetti was also a noted raconteur whose creative output included poetry, an autobiography and his one-man show, A Very Private Diary.
A BBC documentary on his life and work saw contributions from Barbara Windsor and Rob Brydon praising a "great Welsh eccentric".
Spinetti died at a hospice in Monmouth on Monday morning, his agent said.