Dudley Moore — the elfin British actor who spotlighted his comic and musical talents in works like “Beyond the Fringe” and who became a successful, if unlikely, Hollywood leading man in “10” and “Arthur” — died Wednesday at his home in New Jersey of pneumonia, resulting from complications of progressive palsy (PSP). He was 66.
Moore, who excelled at physical comedy, first came to attention as part of comedy revue “Beyond the Fringe,” written by and starring himself, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. For several years, they toured Britain and the U.S. with their satiric and sometimes silly wit.
Moore and Cook later paired for a British TV series and made club appearances as well as several recordings. Moving to film, they co-starred in a number of comedies, the most prominent of which was the 1967 Stanley Donen-helmed “Bedazzled.”
Moore also enjoyed attention as an accomplished jazz pianist and film composer. After going solo as a performer, he broke through with Blake Edwards’ tart 1979 comedy “10” and the wildly successful 1981 “Arthur,” co-starring John Gielgud.
Bo Derek, his co-star on “10,” told Daily Variety’s Army Archerd on Wednesday: “I loved him. It was so sad for him to suffer so long. It is a terrible disease. I had been unable to speak to him since April, but I was glad to know that he died in peace with his music playing.”
His reign as a Hollywood star was relatively brief, but he always returned to his music, appearing in concert venues in later years and recording as well. He was married four times, and his stormy liaisons with women often made for material in the tabloids. The media also faithfully reported his frequent fiscal battles.
Born in Dagenham, Essex, on April 19, 1935, Moore suffered from a club foot, making him the butt of cruel jokes. (It was later corrected, leaving him with just a slight limp). He turned to music for solace and studied at the Guildhall School of Music, winning a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford. He earned his B.A. in music in 1957 and stayed another year to earn his music degree in composition.
At Oxford he’d developed into a commendable jazz pianist and after finishing his studies, he performed with British jazz notable Johnny Dankworth as well as toured the U.S. with the Vic Lewis band.
In 1960, he became part of a group of Oxford and Cambridge graduates asked to perform latenight comic skits as part of the “fringe” appearances at the Edinburgh Festival.
This is where he, Bennett, Cook and Miller first came together. His colleagues leaned toward brainy satire, while Moore used the piano to accompany most of his daffy comic riffs, replete with pratfall humor. While the troupe had their personal disputes, “Beyond the Fringe” was an enormous success, moving on to London and Broadway for extended runs over the next four years, at the end of which only Moore and Cook remained together.
Cook opened his nightclub, the Establishment, in London while Moore went back to playing jazz and writing musical scores. They then reunited for the popular BBC-TV series “Not Only … But Also,” in 1965, 1966 and 1970.
Movies were the next logical step, as they took supporting roles in the 1966 period farce “The Wrong Box.” “Bedazzled,” their first starring assignment, was a wacky updating of the Faust legend that was very well received. (It’s become a long-standing cult hit, and Fox remade it in 2000.)
Moore did not neglect his musical career either, composing the score for “Bedazzled” as well as the dramas “Inadmissable Evidence” and “Staircase” and his first solo starring feature, the 1968 comedy “30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia,” which he scripted. Smaller roles followed in “Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies,” “The Bed Sitting Room” (both 1969) and the 1972 “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
Onstage, Moore starred in the West End production of Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam.” He and Cook recorded “Derek and Clive Alive,” an album full of raunchy improvisations, which Island records deemed too vulgar to release. But it became so popular as a bootleg album that it was eventually released in 1976, with “Derek and Clive” follow-ups in later years.
In 1971 he and Cook reinvented their former vehicle as “Beyond the Fridge,” touring Australia, England and landing on Broadway as “Good Evening” in 1973. They won a special Tony for the production.
Their ill-fated film adaptation of “Hound of the Baskervilles,” produced in 1978, was not released in the U.S. until 1981.
A supporting role in the Goldie Hawn/Chevy Chase “Foul Play” brought him to the attention of Blake Edwards, who had just lost George Segal as the star of his comedy “10.” With co-stars Derek and Julie Andrews, Moore proved a perfectly hapless comic foil and the film’s success made him a $1 million-per-picture star.
The rather wan “Wholly Moses!” followed in 1980. Then came Moore’s biggest hit was as the spoiled alcoholic playboy “Arthur,” which won him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination as best actor. A dramatic turn in “Six Weeks” was ill conceived, though he had some good slapstick moments in works such as “Romantic Comedy,” “Lovesick,” a remake of Preston Sturges’ “Unfaithfully Yours” and Edwards’ “Micki & Maude.”
But he never found a comedy with the mass appeal of “Arthur,” certainly not its 1988 sequel “Arthur 2: On the Rocks,” nor “Best Defense,” “Santa Claus: The Movie,” “Like Father, Like Son” and 1990’s “Crazy People.” The ’90s found him appearing only onscreen intermittently in forgettable movies like “Blame It on the Bellboy,” “The Pickle,” “Parallel Lives” and “The Disappearance of Kevin Johnson.”
Moore returned to jazz and classic piano in later years and never retired from composing. His club and concert performances in that arena were almost always well received.
His first marriage was to actress Suzy Kendall in 1968 and lasted two years; he and his second wife, actress Tuesday Weld, stayed together for five years (1975-80) and had a son. He later was married to Brogan Lane (1988-91) and, after that divorce, he had a long relationship with Susan Anton. In 1994 he married Nicole Rothschild. He was arrested that year on charges of domestic violence. They had a son in 1995 and eventually divorced in 1998.
In 1997 Moore underwent open-heart surgery.
He is survived by his two sons and a sister.
Donations in his name may be made to Music for All Seasons and the Dudley Moore Research Fund for PSP.
(Timothy M. Gray contributed to this report.)