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JJ Murphy: Talented actor who joined fledgling Lyric Players was a consummate professional on stage and a gentleman off it

Gifted: JJ Murphy
Gifted: JJ Murphy

The critics used all sorts of accolades to acclaim all sorts of roles which JJ Murphy played with gusto in virtually every theatre in Northern Ireland over nearly 70 years of acting.

But one word keeps popping up as people reminisce about the real man who died on Friday at the age of 86. And that's decent.

From Hollywood to Holywood, people who knew Mr Murphy and worked with him summed him in unswervingly positive and similar ways, as the consummate professional on stage who was the most decent of gentlemen off it; a man who fought for actors' rights and campaigned just as tirelessly to raise money to help children in a Romanian orphanage he and his wife Mary supported.

He was a man who lived for his livelihood of acting but it was his Christian faith which informed everything that JJ Murphy did.

As a lifelong activist in the actors' union Equity it was his passionate belief in justice rather than any sense of political agitation that made him strive to improve the lot of his fellow thespians.

JJ Murphy was the last of a generation of gifted actors who started their careers with the Group Theatre in Belfast, training there in the late 40s. However, JJ later became a stalwart of the Arts Theatre in Belfast where he was cast by Herbert (Hibby) Wilmot mainly in the lead roles in a series of still popular Ulster farces by the prolific County Down comedy writer Sam Cree.

But more serious and challenging roles were to beckon and he joined the fledgling Lyric Players set up by pioneering theatre-lover Mary O'Malley at her home in Derryvolgie Avenue. It was inevitable that he would be recruited to bring his range of talents and his remarkably rich speaking voice to the new grander theatre in Ridgeway Street where he established himself as a favourite alongside other sadly departed greats like Louis Rolston, John Hewitt and Mark Mulholland.

The Lyric and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland both paid tribute to Mr Murphy's decades in the forefront of theatre here.

Mr Murphy had last been on stage at the newly rebuilt Lyric Theatre in a touring production of the Joseph Tomelty classic All Soul's Night by the Centre Stage Theatre Company two years ago.

But in recent years JJ had been excited by his 'new' career in TV productions like Game of Thrones and movies like Dracula Untold.

He had also played the Lighthouse keeper in the CBBC series The Sparticle Mystery. Local actor BJ Hogg said on Facebook that it was while filming the programme that he met him for the last time. "As usual he nailed the part. A fine talent and a lovely gent."

Mr Murphy's funeral was due to be held this morning at St Brigid's Church in Derryvolgie Avenue, not far from where he enjoyed some of his finest theatrical moments with the old Lyric Players.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph