Dame Helen Mirren has paid tribute to fellow Shakespearean actor Alan Howard, calling his death a "huge loss to British theatre".
Howard's agents said the actor, a stalwart of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), "died peacefully in hospital" on Saturday after a bout of pneumonia last month. He was 77.
Dame Helen, who performed with the RSC in the 60s, 70s and 80s, said in a statement: "Alan was a member of a very small group of actors who could truly be called a great classical actor.
"I do not know of another actor who could reinvent a line of Shakespeare, time and time again, with imagination and intelligence the way he could. He was always exciting and inspiring, always trying to find the material anew. He had prodigious talents to play with, a superb voice, an athletic frame, and a profound and subtle way of approaching the material.
"I often had the privileged position of being able to watch him from the wings of the theatre. This I would do, trying to learn something unlearnable. Because only Alan could be what Alan was.
"There was always a danger in what he did, a sense that he was performing a high wire act, in the way that a high wire act combines great technique with the danger of the unexpected. He is a huge loss to British theatre. "
RSC a rtistic director Gregory Doran said he heard the news with "great regret" and said the Stratford-upon-Avon theatre had been his "spiritual home".
He said: "A lan was a giant. He was gifted with a great classical physique, a prodigious talent and an utterly unmistakable voice."
Howard's career included playing Macbeth at the National Theatre and King Lear at the Old Vic as well as dozens of performances with the RSC, appearing on stage opposite stars including Dame Helen and Glenda Jackson.
He also provided the voice for the ring in two of the Lord Of The Rings films and appeared in TV shows including Foyle's War.
He came from a long family of actors and was related to Gone With The Wind star Leslie Howard.