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Geoffrey Rush Wins Defamation Case Over Sexual Misconduct Allegations

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Richard Dobson / Newspix/REX/Shutterstock

Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush has won his defamation case against the News Corp.-owned newspaper Daily Telegraph in his home country of Australia. The paper had published a story in which actress Erin Norvill accused Rush of inappropriate sexual behavior during a stage production of “King Lear” in Sydney.

Judge Michael Wigney on Thursday called the report “a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism” that relied on allegations from an accuser “prone to exaggeration and embellishment.” Norvill, speaking outside the courtroom after the verdict, said she stood by her testimony.

Wigney awarded Rush A$850,000 ($600,000) in aggravated damages. The actor is expected to receive further payments for loss of earnings at a further hearing in May.

After exiting the courtroom, Rush said he was grateful for the verdict. But, he added, “there are no winners in this case. It’s been extremely distressing for everyone involved.” Details of the case were heard by the court last October and November. At the beginning of proceedings, Rush said the period between the time the allegations surfaced and the trial had been “the worst 11 months of my life.”

The newspaper published the allegations under the headline “King Leer” and in a second story under the headline “Star’s Bard Behaviour.” In its defense, the paper denied its stories implied that Rush was a sexual predator and a pervert, and said the stories had included Rush’s denials. The articles did not name Norvill as the accuser.

Delivering his verdict, Wigney said: “I was not ultimately persuaded that Ms. Norvill was an entirely credible witness.” He said that her testimony was not supported by the evidence of theater director Neil Armfield or of cast members Robyn Nevin and Helen Buday.

The judge said he was considering special damages for Rush based on the consideration that the actor would likely not receive any substantial offers of work for 12 months after the “vindication of his reputation.” Rush might then be paid 50% of his usual rate for the first 12 to 18 months after that, and 75% for the following 18-24 months, Wigney said.