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Birthday: April 2, 1914
Place: Marylebone, London, England, UK
Height: 5' 1"
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| A member of a generation of British actors that included Sir Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson, Sir Alec Guinness possessed an astonishing versatility that was amply displayed over the course of his 66-year career. Dubbed "the outstanding poet of anonymity" by fellow actor Peter Ustinov, Guinness was a consummate performer, effortlessly portraying characters that ranged from eight members of the same family to an aging Jedi master. Synonymous throughout most of his career with old-school British aplomb and dry wit, the actor was considered to be second only to Olivier in his popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. Theater critic J.C. Trewin once described Guinness as possessing "a player's countenance, designed for whatever might turn up." The latter half of this description was an apt summation of the actor's beginnings, which were positively Dickensian. Born into poverty in London on April 2, 1914, Guinness was an illegitimate child who did not know the name on his birth certificate was Guinness until he was 14 (until that time he had used his stepfather's surname, Stiven). Guinness never met his biological father, who provided his son's private school funds but refused to pay for his university education. It was while working as an advertising copywriter that Guinness began going to the theatre, spending his pound-a-week salary on tickets. Determined to become an actor himself, he somehow found the money to pay for beginning acting lessons and subsequently won a place at the Fay Compton School of Acting. While studying there, he was told by his acting teacher Martita Hunt that he had "absolutely no talent." However, Sir John Gielgud apparently disagreed: as the judge of the end-of-term performance, he awarded Guinness an acting prize and further rewarded him with two roles in his 1934 production of Hamlet. Three years later, Guinness became a permanent member of Gielgud's London company and in 1938, playing none other than Hamlet himself. In 1939, Guinness' stage version of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, which featured the actor as Herbert Pocket, caught the attention of fledgling director David Lean. Seven years later, Lean would cast Guinness in the novel's screen adaptation; the 1946 film was the actor's second screen engagement, the first being the 1934 Evensong, in which he was an extra. It was in Lean's Oliver Twist (1948) that he had his first memorable onscreen role as Fagin, although his portrayal — complete with stereotypically Semitic gestures and heavy makeup — aroused charges of anti-Semitism in the United States that delayed the film's stateside release for three years. Guinness won bona fide international recognition for his work in Robert Hamer's Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), an Ealing black comedy that featured him as eight members of the d'Ascoyne family. He would subsequently be associated with a number of the classic Ealing comedies, including The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Detective (1954), and The Ladykillers (1955). In 1955, Guinness' contributions to the arts were recognized by Queen Elizabeth, who dubbed him Commander of the British Empire. Two years later, he received recognition on the other side of the Atlantic when he won a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Colonel Nicholson, a phenomenally principled and at times foolhardy British POW in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Ironically, Guinness turned down the role twice before being persuaded to take it by producer Sam Spiegel; his performance remained one of the most acclaimed of his career. In 1960, Guinness once again earned acclaim for his portrayal of another officer, in Tunes of Glory. Cast as hard-drinking, ill-mannered Scottish Lieutenant-Colonel Jock Sinclair, a role he would later name as his favorite, the actor gave a powerful performance opposite John Mills as the upper-crust British officer assigned to take over his duties. He subsequently became associated with David Lean's great epics of the 1960s, starring as Prince Feisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and as Zhivago's brother in Dr. Zhivago (1965); much later in his career, Guinness would also appear in Lean's A Passage to India (1984) as Professor Godbole, an Indian intellectual. Although Guinness continued to work at a fairly prolific pace throughout the 1960s and 1970s, his popularity was on the wane until director George Lucas practically begged him to appear as Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977). The role earned the actor his third Academy Award nomination (his second came courtesy of his screenplay for Ronald Neame's 1958 satire The Horse's Mouth) and introduced him to a new generation of fans. Guinness reprised the role for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983); although the role Obi Wan was perhaps the most famous of his career and earned him millions, he reportedly hated the character and encouraged Lucas to kill him off in the trilogy's first installment so as to limit his involvement in the subsequent films.After receiving an honorary Academy Award in 1979, Guinness did a bit of television (most notably a 1979 adaptation of John LeCarre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and acted onscreen in supporting roles. In 1988 he earned a slew of award nominations — including his fourth Oscar nomination — for his work in a six-hour adaptation of Dickens' Little Dorrit. In addition to acting, Guinness focused his attention on writing, producing two celebrated memoirs. He died on August 5, 2000, at the age of 86, leaving behind his wife of 62 years, a son, and one of the acting world's most distinguished legacies.
- Reportedly hated working on Star Wars (1977) so much, Guinness claims that Obi-Wan's death was his idea as a means to limit his involvement in the film. Guinness also claims to throw away all Star Wars related fan mail without even opening it.
- Son: actor Matthew Guinness
- He was one of the last surviving members of a great generation of UK actors, which included Sir Laurence Olivier , Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson .
- "de Cuffe" is his mother's surname; he never knew the identity of his father. (source: obituary, Daily Telegraph, 7 August 2000)
- Created a Companion of Honour in 1994
- Awarded CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1955
- Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959
- A fan of the television series "Due South" (1994).
- Despite popular belief he NEVER uttered the line 'May the force be with you' in ANY of the Star Wars films (the closest he came was 'the force will be with you').
- He was voted third in the Orange Film 2001 survey of greatest British film actors.
- The qualities he claimed to most admire in an actor were "simplicity, purity, clarity of line."
- He made his final stage appearance at the Comedy Theatre in London on May 30 1989, in a production called 'A Walk in the Woods', where he played a Russian diplomat.
- His widow, Merula, died on October 17 2000, just two months after her husband.
- In his last book of memoirs, A Positively Final Appearance, he expressed a devotion to the TV show "The Simpsons" (1989).
- His films were studied by Ewan McGregor in preparation for his role as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) to ensure accuracy in everything from his accent to the pacing of his words.
- Awarded an honorary DLitt by Oxford University in 1977 and an honorary LittD by Cambridge University in 1991.
- Was a Grammy nominee in 1964, in the Spoken Word category, for the album "Alec Guinness: A Personal Choice" (RCA Victor Red Seal: 1964), on which he read a selection of his favorite poems.
- Starred as Eric Birling alongside Sir Ralph Richardson in the first ever showing of 'An Inspector Calls' - at the 'New Theatre', London, 1 October 1946.
- He was awarded the Laurence Olivier Theatre Special Award in 1989 (1988 season) for his outstanding contributions to West End Theatre.
- Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith, pg. 198-199. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
- Has been succeeded in two of his roles by actors from Trainspotting (1996). Guinness played Adolf Hitler in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973). Robert Carlyle played Hitler in Hitler: The Rise of Evil (2003) (TV), while Ewan McGregor succeeded him in the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
- Grandfather of Sally Guinness.
- Ewan McGregor was not the only actor in the Star Wars prequels to study his performances. The voice for the character Watto was modeled after Guinness's performance as Fagin in Oliver Twist.
- Though he often spoke critically of Star Wars, the three leads, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher, have always spoken very fondly of him, praising him as being a very professional actor who was always respectful to the people he worked with.
- Reportedly answered one "Star Wars" fan's boast that he'd seen the first movie over a hundred times, with a nod and the words "Promise me you'll never watch it again." The boy was stunned, but his mother thanked Guinness.
- His favourite hotel in London was the Connaught, in which he always stayed whenever visiting the city.
- A heavy smoker for most of his life, he finally managed to give up the habit in his last years.
- One of his last jobs was providing the voice (his first and only voice-over) for a cartoon character on a UK TV ad campaign by the Inland Revenue advising the public about the new tax return forms which were to be introduced. He said in his diary of the recording (made on 30th March 1995) "I did it feebly."
- George Lucas said Guinness was very patient and helpful to him during the filming of the first Star Wars (1977) , even to the point of getting the other actors to work more seriously.
- Harrison Ford said that Guinness helped him find an apartment to stay at when he arrived in England to film the first Star Wars film.
- Won Broadway's 1964 Tony Award as Best Actor (Dramatic) for "Dylan," in which he played the title character, poet Dylan Thomas.
- Both Guiness and his wife Merula converted to the Roman Catholic Church in the 1950s.
- He is buried in Petersfield Cemetery, Hampshire.
- Appeared with Kay Walsh in five different films: Oliver Twist (1948), Last Holiday (1950), The Horse's Mouth (1958), Tunes of Glory (1960) and Scrooge (1970).
- Despite being two of Britain's most distinguished actors of their generation, he appeared in only two films with John Mills: Great Expectations (1946) and Tunes of Glory (1960).
- Great-grandson Otis Marlon Simeon Guinness-Walker, born in 1995.
- Celebrated his 62nd birthday during the filming of Star Wars (1977) in Tunisia, where the Tatooine scenes were filmed.
- Was considered for the role of Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express (1974).
- In certain prints of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), a film in which he won the Oscar for Best Actor, his last name is misspelled "Guiness."
- In his autobiographical volumes, Guinness) wrote about an incident at the Old Vic when, in the company of National Theater (which originally played at the Old Vic) artistic director Laurence Olivier in the basement of the theater, he asked where a certain tunnel went. Olivier didn't really know but confidently decided to take the tunnel as it must come out somewhere nearby, it being part of the Old Vic. . In reality, the tunnel went under the Thames, and they were rescued after several hours of fruitless navigation of the dark, damp corridor. Guiness remarked that Olivier's willingness to plunge into the dark and unknown was characteristic of the type of person (and actor) he was. As for himself as an actor, Guiness lamented at times that he didn't take enough chances.
- Went bald on top, and according to his "Time" Magazine cover story of 21 April 1958, he was embarrassed by it but chose not to wear a hairpiece in private life. He told the "Time" writer that he had shaved the top of his head as a young man in his first professional acting engagement, playing a coolie. It never grew back properly after that, he lamented.
- Guinness played The Fool to Laurence Olivier's first Lear under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie in 1938 when he was 24 and Olivier was 31. Olivier was generally considered less-than-successful in the part due to his youth and relative lack of maturity in classical parts (though his contemporaneous Henry V was a smash and hinted at his future greatness as an interpreter of Shakespeare). Guiness, however, received raves for his acting. Both actors would go on to knighthoods and Best Actor Oscars in their long and distinguished careers.
- Was the subject of a cover story in "Time" magazine for the week of April 21, 1958, shortly after he won the Best Actor Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
- In the last year of his life, Sir Alec had been receiving hospital treatment for failing eyesight due to glaucoma, and he had been diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer in January 2000. By the time his liver cancer was discovered in July 2000 it was at an extremely advanced stage, making surgery impossible.
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currently feature over 65,000 Nude Pics, Biographies, Video Clips,
Articles, and Movie Reviews of famous stars.