Irene Worth, the actress who played legendary roles in a career in London and North America, died in her home in New York over the weekend, according to an announcement from The Stratford Festival in Canada, where Ms. Worth was a member of the founding company 50 years ago.
The festival said the cause of death was a stroke. The 85-year-old American-born Ms. Worth was to appear on Broadway in 1999 in Ring Round the Moon for Lincoln Center Theatre before ill health forced her to pull out of the show. She has made public appearances since that time. Some sources put her age at 86.
Ms. Worth's Broadway credits include The Two Mrs. Carrolls (her Broadway debut), Tiny Alice (for which she won the Tony Award opposite John Gielgud), Lost in Yonkers (playing a cold immigrant grandmother, for which she earned a Tony), Toys in the Attic, Sweet Bird of Youth (another Tony performance), The Chalk Garden and John Gabriel Borkman.
For the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, she played Lady Macbeth, Dr. Van Zahnd in The Physicists and Goneril in King Lear. At the National Theatre, she appeared in Oedipus with John Gielgud and The Bay at Nice. Other New York credits include The Cherry Orchard with Raul Julia and Meryl Streep, Happy Days, Coriolanus, the Gypsy and the Yellow Canary, Irene Worth's Portrait of Edith Wharton (all for The Public Theater) and Mary Stuart with Eva La Gallienne.
Ms. Worth studied acting in London in 1944 and spent many years performing there for many companies. She graduated from UCLA in 1937 with a bachelor's degree in education. Her professional debut was in a tour of a play called Escape Me Never in 1942. The actress suffered a stroke in 1999 prior to the first previews of Ring Round the Moon on Broadway. Marian Seldes stepped into the role of Madame Desmermortes in the Jean Anouilh play.
At the famed Stratford Festival in Ontario, Ms. Worth, "added star lustre to the Stratford Festival company in its inaugural 1953 season," according to the festival obituary announcement.
"She was not only a great artist but was a leading member of the Festival's first acting company, where she appeared playing the role of Helena in All's Well That Ends Well and Queen Margaret in Richard III," said artistic director Richard Monette. "Irene had many friends at the Stratford Festival and she will be missed. She was, to use a quote from All's Well That Ends Well, 'a particular bright star'."
Ms. Worth had been invited to attend the Festival's 50th season opening night of All's Well That Ends Well at the Festival Theatre this coming May 27, but had declined due to travel plans she already had in place. However, she wrote back a few weeks ago with her best wishes to the company: "The opening night of All's Well. What a night that will be! And what a night it was [in 1953]! The audience . . . made a glorious sound at the end and we knew then that Stratford was on its way . . . a thousand good wishes."
Ms. Worth returned to Stratford in 1959, when she played Rosalind in As You Like It directed by Peter Wood, and again in 1970, when she played the title role in Hedda Gabler directed by Peter Gill. She also returned in three one-woman shows: Letters of Love and Affection (1982, 1983), Venus and Adonis (1983) and Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway (1983).
She was born in Omaha, NE, and raised in California, but she would work with some of the masters of 20th century theatre: Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness and Noel Coward, as well as director Peter Brook, starring in the famed 1962 production of King Lear which opened the New York State Theater.
Ms. Worth's occasional appearances in films include recreating her Tony perfromance for the film, "Lost in Yonkers" (1993), "Orders to Kill" (1958), for which she won the British Academy Award for Best Actress, "The Scapegoat" (1959), "Nicholas and Alexandra" (1971), "Eyewitness" (1981) and "Deathtrap" (1982).
In 1975, she was made an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
— By Kenneth Jones