Of my research during several hours a few months back about this most admired and cherished actor of mine, Ian Charleson of ‘Chariots of Fire’ fame, I have kept several articles that were especially informative and moving, revealing the quality of being in the exceptional man they were written about, who died too young.
In a place like Auroville, where it is that quality of being that matters, and not the usual socio-cultural criteria, and where it is known that we all live many lifetimes, homosexuality is not shocking nor even surprising, as it is seen for what it is: simply the carry-over from a lifetime in a male body to one in a female body, or vice-versa, for the experience of both sexes is necessary for the full and balanced development of each soul, each being. Here lesbians and gays are just people like anyone else, not meted out with any special laws or conditions for being accepted. Here they don’t have to hide, nor on the contrary to march on the streets in mass manifestations just to regain their pride socially.
Had he lived here, Ian could have been openly gay, and nobody would have cared. But in his society at the time, it took great courage to risk damaging the whole image he would leave behind as an actor, by deliberately and publicly revealing in the end the disease he had died from, that used to be (and still is to a large extent) pointed at as well by the ignorant, superficial morality of the so-called ‘normal’ people. But he wanted others to be helped find the cure for this disease, so he took the risk all the same.
Ian’s own birth anniversary was precisely this month, I just happened to notice: August 11th.
In his memory, and as a belated birthday present, I am today posting the following tribute, or rather garland of tributes, composed of those articles (or some, extracts from Wikipedia) I had selected and kept preciously:
Ian Charleson’s Death
Charleson, who was gay, was diagnosed with HIV in 1986, and died of AIDS-related causes in January 1990 at the age of 40. He died eight weeks after performing the title role in a run of Hamlet, in Richard Eyre’s production at the Olivier Theatre. Fellow actor and friend, Sir Ian McKellen, said that Charleson played Hamlet so well it was as if he had rehearsed the role all his life.
Charleson requested that it be announced after his death that he had died of AIDS, in order to publicize the condition. This unusual decision by a major internationally known actor — the first show business death in the United Kingdom openly attributed to complications from AIDS — helped promote awareness of HIV and AIDS and acceptance of AIDS patients.
Charleson is buried in Portobello Cemetery, Edinburgh.’
Acclaimed for his performance as Hamlet at the National Theatre, highly touted as being the “next Laurence Olivier.” Charleson was among the Royal Night of 100 Stars on 3/31/1985, a production which showcases talent that is known by royalty. Of his final performance in 1989, his colleagues and peers said it was the finest performance they had ever seen of Hamlet.
In looking back at his life, Ian is quoted as saying “I have wasted so much time. Time that was not mine to waste. And now I cry for that wasted time and pull up my soul from the dark cave in which I have kept it all this while and I say … you are free.”
His mother, Jean, said that at the last, when his friends would come by to visit him, he would be the one to cheer them up. He died from AIDS on 1/06/1990.
Shortly before his death, from 9 October to 13 November 1989, Charleson performed his second run of Hamlet, this time at the National Theatre — giving a definitive performance which garnered major accolades. In a lengthy review praising Charleson’s performance, John Peter wrote in the Sunday Times:
[T]he masterful new Hamlet: Ian Charleson. …. Technically he employs clarity combined with a powerful dramatic drive. His delivery is steely but delicate. The words move with sinuous elegance and crackle with fire. His Hamlet is virile and forceful. … He oozes intelligence from every pore. …
The way Charleson can transform a production is a reminder that actors are alive and well, that directors can only draw a performance from those who have one in them and that in the last analysis the voice of drama speaks to us through actors.
The day following Charleson’s final Hamlet performance, when Ian McKellen was given the Evening Standard Award for Best Actor for his Iago in Othello, McKellen offered thanks, but said having seen “the perfect Hamlet” at the National Theatre the previous night, he thought that not he but Ian Charleson was truly the Best Actor of 1989.
Here is the very article that announced Ian’s death, and its cause too, as he had wished:
From Deseret News archives:
ACTOR WHO STARRED IN `CHARIOTS OF FIRE’ DIES OF AIDS ILLNESS
Published: Monday, Jan. 8, 1990 12:00 a.m. MST
Ian Charleson, the Scottish actor who raced his way to stardom playing a runner in the Oscar-winning movie “Chariots of Fire,” has died at age 40 of complications from AIDS.
Charleson was suffering from septicemia, a blood disease, and died Saturday, said his agent, Michael Whitehall. English actor Ian McKellen said Charleson was “the most unmannered and unactorish of actors: always truthful, always honest.”
McKellen said Sunday night that Charleson was a very talented actor and singer whose Hamlet “cut right through the accretions of the centuries . . . he was a living modern.”
He received wide acclaim when he replaced Daniel Day Lewis last fall as Shakespeare’s tormented Dane in the production at London’s Royal National Theater. Charleson’s last performance came just nine weeks ago.
“After nearly four hours on stage he was given a standing ovation,” Whitehall said. “It was clear that he was exhausted, but his courage, not only in being on that stage but giving us the performance of his life, left our applause and cheers seeming very inadequate.”
John Peter in The Sunday Times of London called Charleson “a princely Hamlet, every inch the king he should have been.”
Earlier, the actor won praise in three American shows at the same theater – the musical “Guys and Dolls,” playing Sky Masterson; Sam Shepard’s “Fool For Love,” as the violently passionate Eddie; and Tennessee Williams’s “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” as the self-lacerating Brick.
Charleson found his widest public in Hugh Hudson’s 1981 hit film “Chariots of Fire,” playing Christian runner Eric Liddell, who refuses to run on Sunday because he doesn’t believe in competition on the Sabbath.
The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Other movies included the 1982 Oscar-winning “Gandhi,” as a priest who befriends the Indian leader, and the comedy “Car Trouble,” opposite his “Fool For Love” co-star, Julie Walters.
The son of a printer, Charleson was born in Edinburgh on Aug. 11, 1949. He won a scholarship to the capital’s Royal High School and studied architecture at Edinburgh University.
He turned to acting while at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and began his stage career with a two-year stint at the Young Vic Theater from 1972 to 1974.
The bulk of his stage work was for Britain’s two major state-subsidized theaters. His first roles at the National were in “Julius Caesar” and “Volpone” in 1977. Credits at the Royal Shakespeare Company include “Love’s Labors Lost” and “The Tempest.”
For his performance in Chariots of Fire, Charleson won a Variety Club Showbiz Award for Most Promising Artiste in February 1982.
Charleson was nominated for the Olivier Award for Actor of the Year in a New Play, for his starring role as Eddie in Fool for Love in 1984.
For Ian Charleson: A Tribute (1990)
In Charleson’s honour, the annual Ian Charleson Awards were established in 1991, to reward the best classical stage performances in Britain by actors aged under 30.
The Royal Free Hospital’s Ian Charleson Day Centre for people with HIV, in London, is named in his memory.
In 1990, following his death, 20 of Charleson’s friends, colleagues, and family members, including Ian McKellen, Alan Bates, Hugh Hudson, Richard Eyre, Sean Mathias, Hilton McRae, and David Rintoul, contributed to a book of reminiscences about him, called For Ian Charleson: A Tribute. All royalties from the sale of the book went to the Ian Charleson Trust, a charitable foundation which operated from 1990 to 2007.
Two emotional reunion performances of Guys and Dolls, with almost all of the original 1982 cast and musicians, were given at the National Theatre in November 1990 as a tribute to Charleson. The tickets sold out immediately, and the dress rehearsal was also packed. The proceeds from the performances were donated to the new HIV clinic at the Royal Free Hospital, and to scholarships in Charleson’s name at LAMDA.
Hugh Hudson, who had directed Charleson in Chariots of Fire, dedicated his 1999 film My Life So Far “In loving memory of Ian Charleson”. The 2005 videos “Wings on Their Heels: The Making of Chariots of Fire” and “Chariots of Fire: A Reunion” are both also dedicated to his memory.
I kept for the end the article that to me was the deepest and most poignantly moving of all:
THEATRE / Good night, sweet prince
Ian Charleson died five years ago today. David Benedict remembers a great actor.
Friday, 6 January 1995
When Daniel Day-Lewis walked out halfway through the run of Hamlet at the National, everyone talked. When Ian Charleson took over the role a few weeks later, nobody noticed. At least, not until the actress Suzanne Bertish wrote to John Peter of th e Sunday Times urging him to see Charleson’s arresting performance.
Peter went, and sent the actor a jeroboam of champagne after the performance. His review described Charleson’s portrayal as “virile and forceful. He oozes intelligence from every pore . . . the way Charleson can transform a production is a reminder that actors are alive and well, that directors can only draw a performance from those who have one in them and that, in the last analysis, the voice of drama speaks to us through actors.”
What he didn’t know was that Charleson was fighting full-blown Aids. The following night, he gave his last performance. Eight weeks later, at the age of 40, he died of septicemia brought on by Aids, and Britain lost one of its finest actors.
Known principally for his outstanding performance as Eric Liddell in the much-feted Chariots of Fire, Charleson was an actor whose full potential was only just being realised when he died.
He left drama college early to work with Frank Dunlop and the Young Vic Company. Within months he was playing his first Hamlet – in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. At 24, he played the original Shakespeare version for Cambridge Theatre Company but, despite good reviews, he remained unsatisfied with his performance.
There followed TV plays, including Drew Griffiths’s The House on the Hill, West End successes, a season at the National, Derek Jarman’s Jubilee and a lengthy run at the RSC including Once in a Lifetime, the original production of Piaf, and The Taming of the Shrew.
Chariots of Fire was followed by Ghandi and numerous American TV mini-series. His triumphant return to the National was as Sky Masterson (the Marlon Brando role) in Guys and Dolls. Something of his deliciously smooth and sexy performance can be gleaned from the cast recording. It’s not just the flowing of his light tenor voice. There’s something else. When he sings “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” to Julie Covington, you hear his heart opening up. Conversely, when playing opposite Julie Walters in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, he combined physical abandonment with a mesmerising intensity.
He discovered he was HIV positive in 1986 and abandoned work for a year. His antibody status was to remain a secret to all but his closest friends. When he returned to the National in 1988 opposite Lindsay Duncan in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Michael Coveneywrote: “Mr. Charleson is stricken almost to the point of catatonia, a ruined athlete in shimmering white exactly conjuring the ideal of a helpless male divinity. These are two performances of driven majesty and great poise.”
In the Autumn of that year he was rushed to hospital with pneumonia. After extensive chemo- and radiotherapy, he played the tough drag queen Greta at a one-off benefit performance of Bent in aid of Stonewall, the campaign group. As the director Sean Mathias wrote, “the most gargantuan part of it from Ian’s point of view was that here was a man with Aids, his torso now covered by Kaposi’s sarcoma, his face starting to distort and disfigure, dressed convincingly as a glamorous and roguish Dietrich-type woman, and the secret behind that portrayal was that he, the director and the costume designer were the only people who knew about his illness.”
After his death, a group of his friends set up the Ian Charleson Award for a classical actor under the age of 30. There are also scholarships in his name at Lamda, and the Royal Free Hospital has an Aids centre dedicated to him. Much of the money to provide this was raised at a benefit performance of Guys and Dolls. The tickets just vanished. Even the dress rehearsal was packed to the rafters. Nearly every member of the original cast and band returned to honour him. Bob Hoskins even flew in overnight from Los Angeles and made it in time for the curtain-call.
Tony Britten, the musical director, recalls that “he had this enormously virile stage presence and the most glorious, completely unforced voice. The musicians, a hard-bitten bunch, were crying from the overture onwards. Those occasions are always emotional, but that was something else. It was a tribute to the affection in which he was held.”
… And by me too, who also says to him with tears in my eyes and voice:
“‘Good night, sweet prince…’ Be at peace, wherever you now are… And please come back quick, this world needs people like you!”