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Actor John Wood dies at 81

Tony winner known for Shakespeare, Stoppard plays

British actor John Wood, who won a 1976 Tony for his starring role in Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties,” a highlight of his long association with the playwright, died in England on Saturday of natural causes. He was 81.

Wood also made many appearances with the Royal Shakespeare Company starting in the early 1970s in a career that also included work on the big and smallscreen.

The actor did not make many appearances on Broadway, but he made them count.

In his first Rialto gig, Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,” he earned a Tony nom for playing Guildenstern in 1968. He earned another for his title role in the revival of William Gillette’s “Sherlock Holmes” in 1975. He also appeared in “Tartuffe” in 1977, starred in Ira Levin’s very successful “Deathtrap” the next year, and replaced Ian McKellen as Salieri in “Amadeus.”

At the RSC, he won acclaim for his performance as Brutus in “Julius Caesar” and much later in “King Lear.” Other notable stage work in the U.K. included Saturnitus in “Titus Andronicus”; the title roles in “Richard III” and Chekhov’s “Ivanov”; Yakov in Gorky’s “Enemies”; and Solness in Ibsen’s “Master Builder.”

His association with Stoppard began in the 1960s: Wood was one of the leads in two Stoppard Brit TV efforts, 1967 episodes of “Thirty-Minute Theatre” entitled “Teeth” and “Another Moon Called Earth.” They developed an instant rapport.

The playwright later penned “Travesties” with the actor in mind. Wood was nominated for a 1998 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for best actor for his performance as poet A.E. Housman in Stoppard’s “The Invention of Love.”

The actor’s film work included roles in “Nicholas and Alexandra,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” “War Games,” “The Madness of King George,” “Shadowlands,” “Chocolat,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Imagining Argentina” and “The White Countess.”

He appeared in the misbegotten 1998 bigscreen adaptation of “The Avengers” and had earlier guested on the 1960s series.

Wood was born in Derbyshire. He was a law student at Oxford, but a 1950 production of “Measure for Measure” starring John Gielgud inspired him to pursue an acting career. In 1954 He joined the Old Vic — he did not enjoy his experience there, saying, “One felt one was simply the cheapest way of getting the costume on stage” — and made his West End debut three years later in Peter Hall’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real.”

Wood made his last smallscreen appearance guesting on “Inspector Lewis” in 2007 and provided the narration for the 2008 Australian film “When I Grow Up I Want to Be white.”

He is survived by his second wife, Sylvia; two sons; and two daughters.

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