Roger Rees, Actor in ‘Cheers,’ ‘West Wing,’ ‘Nicholas Nickelby,’ Dies at 71

Roger Rees
John Lamparski/WireImage

Cheers” and “The West Wing” actor Roger Rees, who won a Tony for “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby,” died Friday in New York. He was 71.

The New York Times’ Scott Heller tweeted the news late Friday.

A statement from Rees’ publicist, quoted by Heller, read: “Roger Rees, Tony Award-winning actor, passed away tonight at home, after a brief illness.”

Rees took the lead role in “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby,” which played in London and on Broadway from 1980 to 1982. He won an Olivier Award and a Tony for his performance, and reprised the part in a 1982 TV version, which was produced by Colin Callender. Rees was nominated for an Emmy, and the production won the Emmy for outstanding limited series.

Later TV roles included as wealthy Brit Robin Colcord in “Cheers,” and the British ambassador, Lord John Marbury, in “The West Wing.” Other TV performances included as Thomas Paine in TV miniseries “Liberty! The American Revolution,” and roles in two sci-fi series: “M.A.N.T.I.S.,” which was created by Sam Hamm and Sam Raimi, and “Warehouse 13.”

Movie appearances included roles in Mel Brooks’ “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” in which he played the Sheriff of Rottingham, and in Steve Martin’s “The Pink Panther” and Salma Hayek’s “Frida.”

The actor, who was born in Aberystwyth, Wales in 1944, is survived by his husband, the playwright Rick Elice. The couple’s life together was profiled by Michael Schulman in a 2012 article in the New Yorker. Elice co-wrote, with Marshall Brickman, the books for “Jersey Boys” and “The Addams Family,” in which Rees starred as Gomez.

Rees was artistic director for three seasons at Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Mass., which he left in 2007. Rees also directed for the stage. He co-directed, with Alex Timbers, Elice’s adaptation of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a prequel to “Peter Pan.” The production was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning five, in 2012.

In 2013 he won acclaim for his role in the Roundabout Theater Company revival of “The Winslow Boy,” and in the months before he died he co-starred with Chita Rivera in “The Visit.” He was forced to leave the production in May due to his illness.

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  1. Giovanni Sanseviero says:

    A truly wonderful talent.
    I pray he found all the ways to fulfill all his hopes and dreams as both a professional actor and mere mortal, and during the worst of times when the lights would go dark, and only he could accept and make peace with.
    I remember him best from his stand-out moments on West Wing, among others. He had the special gift of making the lens his tool for all our own to enjoy, and repeatedly go back to.

    Rest in Peace, Roger Rees.

  2. I’m so sorry about that.

  3. Will Travers says:

    Actress and wildlife campaigner Virginia McKenna OBE writes: “There will be countless people mourning the untimely death of Roger Rees. I am one of them. A brilliant, versatile actor and a loyal and dear friend.

    We first met at Stratford in 1984 – he was playing Hamlet and I his mother, Gertrude. We loved working together and subsequently performed a programme many times called “Sons and Mothers”, devised for us by Anne Harvey. When I saw him a while ago I suggested we should update it and do one called “Grandmothers and Grandsons”. This now can never be.

    My son Will and I send our love and deepest sympathy to Rick Elice, his devoted and loving husband. Roger has left an unfillable void.”

  4. Elaine Ballace says:

    Roger Rees, was LOVED by everyone on the set of “ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS.” He was a CLASS ACT as an actor and a human being! ROGER, you will be sorely missed. You touched every life you came in contact with. RIP, and may all your pain and suffering be over!

  5. It takes a very funny man for my brother and I to quote Robin Colcord over 30 years later. He was one of a kind.

    • dmcintosh4 says:

      I remember him from George Scott’s 1984 tv production of Scrooge. Rees played his nephew Fred if I am not mistaken. He had a kind of earnest honesty that captured the mood Dicken’s had for his speech when he goes to see Scrooge.

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