John Wood, Tony-Winning British Actor, Dies at 81

Obituaries   John Wood, Tony-Winning British Actor, Dies at 81
John Wood, a versatile British actor with a particular gift for playing curious souls and for the plays of Tom Stoppard, died Aug. 6. He was 81.

Mr. Wood won an Evening Standard Award and a Tony Award for his work in Stoppard's cerebral romp through history, Travesties. He played Henry Carr, the ineffectual, but delusionary, minor diplomat who fabricates a history of circulating Lenin, Tristin Tzara and James Joyce while stationed in 1917 Zurich. In 1968, he was nominated for a Tony for playing Guildenstern in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the play that made Stoppard's name on both sides of the Atlantic. Mr. Wood also created the role of the cantankerous older A.E. Housman in the playwright's The Invention of Love in 1997, earning an Olivier Award nomination.

Standing 6'2" and possessed of long Roman profile often imbued with a perfect mix of British pomposity and befuddlement, Mr. Wood excelled at character parts. He could seem graceful one moment, awkward the next. His high, sonorous voice and dark, mischievous eyes lent fascination to the men he played, who were alternately dense, imperious, fatuous and kind, but almost always querulous and eccentric. Never exactly a popular favorite, he was lauded by many critics. "John Wood is a scintillating actor," wrote Stanley Kauffmann. "He does what all fine actors do: he makes us feel confident and apprehensive—confident that he will never falter in command, apprehensive that he will detonate explosions outside the range of our usual lives."

John Wood was born in Derbyshire on New Year's Day, 1930, and was educated at Jesus College, Oxford, where, in his final year, he played Richard III. He later joined the Old Vic and then the Royal Court. But he didn't find his way as an actor until he was cast in the short Tom Stoppard play Thirty-Minute Theatre: Teeth (#2.18). Stoppard liked what he saw and began to write with Mr. Wood's specific gifts in mind.

The actor won the Most Promising Actor award in 1970 for his role in the Harold Pinter production of James Joyce's Exiles. Soon after, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and began playing a wide variety of parts, both Shakespearean and not, including Gorky's Enemies. He was awarded the 1991 London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actor for his performance in King Lear.

He played the detective Sherlock Holmes to great acclaim in 1974 and then reprised the role in New York, winning another Tony nomination. "John Wood of the equine head, is lean, towering, unflappable and pale with mental tension and professional purpose, a demon of benevolence," wrote critic Harold Clurman. The play ran for more than a year, but that was just a drop in the bucket compared to the Broadway run of the thriller Deathtrap, in which Mr. Wood play Sidney Bruhl, a desperate playwright driven to murder. The Ira Levin play ran for four years and was effectively the last big thriller hit Broadway ever saw.

His film roles included "WarGames," in which he played an eccentric genius, "Ladyhawke," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Richard III," "Chocolat," "The Ideal Husband," "Orlando," "Shadowlands," "The Madness of King George III" and "The Purple Rose of Cairo," as one of the actors trapped in a film whose plot has been stalled by the exit of a fellow player into real life.

He is survived by his wife and four children.

Today’s Most Popular News: