Belfast Telegraph

Milo O'Shea death: Tributes to an Irish acting legend who conquered both stage and screen

By Anne-Marie Walsh

Milo O'Shea's many admirers have paid tribute to the legendary actor following his death in New York.

Mr O'Shea, who appeared in hit American TV series, 'Cheers', 'Frasier', 'The Golden Girls' and the 'West Wing', as well as a string of films and stage productions, died on Tuesday night in hospital at the age of 86 after a short illness.

He is survived by his wife, actress Kitty Sullivan, with whom he performed in a 1981 Broadway revival of 'My Fair Lady', his sons Colm and Steven, and three grandchildren.

The Dublin native had a long career on stage and screen. He appeared opposite Paul Newman in 'The Verdict' and played a priest in Neil Jordan's adaptation of 'The Butcher Boy'.

He played the dastardly Dr Durand Durand (who tries to kill Jane Fonda's character by making her literally die of pleasure) in Roger Vadim's 1968 film 'Barbarella', and the 1980s pop band Duran Duran took their name from the character he played. In 1984, O'Shea reprised his role as Dr Durand Durand (credited as Dr Duran Duran) for the concert film 'Arena'.

In the UK, he starred in the BBC comedy 'Me Mammy' during the late 1960s and early 1970s. His ability to play comic roles -- he played a shrink to two psychiatrists in Frasier -- was highlighted in 2003, when he starred in 'Puckoon', a movie based on a comic novel by Spike Milligan.

Actor Eamon Morrissey said he was one of the "kings of the stage" in Dublin when he was a budding actor over 50 years ago.

The 'Fair City' actor said he and 'Father Ted' star Frank Kelly had been reminiscing about how kind he was to them during their fledgling careers.

"When I started out in the 1960s, he was one of the towers of the theatre," he said. "Frank remembers many of the same things about him.

"He took comedy so seriously, but he was not just a knockabout comic actor. He could be anyone he wanted if he put his mind to it."

He said he was in reviews with him and the BBC sitcom, 'Me Mammy', which was a huge hit, while Frank appeared with him in musicals.

"I was admiring those wonderful eyes of his when I saw him on the TV today," said Mr Morrissey. "His work rate was incredible. He never stopped working, even when everyone else was going to bed."

The Republic's Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan said he was saddened by news of the death of "a giant of stage and screen".

"During his career in theatre and film, both at home and abroad, he is remembered for the quality of his performances in a range of challenging and often ground-breaking roles," he said.

He said his portrayal of Leopold Bloom in 'Ulysses' was a highlight of his film career, while his performance in Zeffirell's 'Romeo and Juliet' also stands out.

"Over his life, he reached the widest audiences from across the globe -- on stage, on film, and on television -- and was internationally recognised for the quality of his work," he said.

"I would like to express my deep condolences to his family, and to his many friends, at this time."

Educated at Synge Street, the actor was discovered in the 1950s by Harry Dillon, who ran the 37 Theatre Club on O'Connell Street in Dublin.

He began his career at the Gate and Gaiety theatres before moving to New York in the 1970s, where he lived since.

The actor moved into film in the 1960s and starred in BBC sitcom 'Me Mammy' with Yootha Joyce, and then as Leopold Bloom in Joseph Strick's 1967 film version of James Joyce's 'Ulysees'.

He guest-starred in the finale of the hugely successful sitcom 'Cheers' in 1992, and also had guest roles in 'The Golden Girls', 'Spin City' and 'St Elsewhere'.

Mr O'Shea was previously married to the late 'Glenroe' actress Maureen Toal. The couple divorced in 1974.


From Ulysses to Carry On to Zeffirelli, Milo had it all

A still from Beckett's 'Rough For Theatre I' with Milo O'Shea as B and David Kelly as A, part of the 'Beckett On Film' series.

A US critic once wrote that whenever he saw Milo O'Shea appear, he felt "like standing up and cheering". There is nobody else like Milo -- there can be nobody. It was his versatility that singled him out.

Throughout his whole career, David Kelly was the only challenger and he died last year.

Most actors today will never be able to achieve that CV -- which spanned all the classical roles in the Abbey to 'Carry On' films; 'Waiting for Godot'; sit-coms; Leopold Bloom in 'Ulysses'; working with Woody Allen and cult movies like 'Barbarella'.

He had it all because he started so young, appearing in his first film, 'Contraband' in 1940 at the age of 13 or 14 in the uncredited role as an air-raid warden.

His death, along with that of David Kelly, marks the end of an era. They were my two heroes of the Irish stage. Those men had it all. We can turn out the light and close the door if we are ever looking for something of that range and versatility because with both of them gone, it's gone.

Both he and David Kelly were gentlemen and both were hilarious. Their anecdotes were never boring tales of long ago -- these men were genuinely witty -- very, very funny.

I first came across Milo in 1967 when I met him through my wife Susan, who had a part in 'Ulysses'. That was his hey-day and the offers were coming in fast and furious. A year later he appeared in Franco Zeffirelli's 'Romeo and Juliet' and he was with Jane Fonda in 'Barbarella'.

Personally, Milo was a terrific raconteur and a very kindly man. He was also a very generous man who, despite moving to New York in the 1970s, always remained deeply interested and firmly rooted in the Irish acting scene. Whenever we did Beckett festivals and whenever the Gate was presenting shows in New York he always came to the shows and to the parties afterwards.

He had a great fondness for his two sons, Colm and Steven. He was also a keen gardener and arranged for automatic water sprinklers to be installed in his garden in New York so that his precious plants would never be neglected whenever he had to go away.

In 1996, he returned to the Gate to tread the boards in 'The Sunshine Boys', again alongside David Kelly. It was a sublime piece of casting and I hung out with them regularly -- you couldn't get better company.

I remember sitting with Milo in his dressing room and watched him threading a needle. I thought he was going to sew something. It was only when he looked more closely that he realised there was nothing in his hands at all. He was an expert mime.

His legacy is his talent as a complete entertainer. Stand-up; mime; singing; dancing; comedy; sit-coms; Chief Justice Ashland in the 'West Wing'; the corrupt judge in 'The Verdict' opposite Paul Newman; tragedy; in Hugh Leonard's 'Me Mammy' . . . Milo could do it all.

Michael Colgan is a film and TV producer and Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre in Dublin

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