Born in London in April 1914, Alec Guinness is considered one of Britain's greatest actors. In comedy, he is most famous for his many parts in Ealing comedy films, including The Ladykillers, The Man In The White Suit, Kind Hearts And Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob. Outside of comedy, he won an Oscar for his role in war film The Bridge On The River Kwai, and played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy. He was knighted in 1959.
Alec Guinness was born Alec Guinness de Cuffe in Maida Vale, London, to Agnes Cuff and a father whose identity has never been confirmed.
As a young man he began work writing copy for advertisements, but soon found his calling in the theatre. His first live experience was on his 20th birthday, as, while still a drama student, he starred in the play Libel, which premiered at the old King's Theatre, Hammersmith, before transferring to the Playhouse. At the age of 22, he played Osric in John Gielgud's production of Hamlet, and in the same year signed with the Old Vic, where he would go on to be cast in a plethora of key roles, working alongside actors such as Peggy Ashcroft, Anthony Quayle, and Jack Hawkins. These early Shakespearean performances would be a constant throughout his career, with notable performances including the title role in the Royal Court Theatre's 1966 production of Macbeth.
After serving in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in the Second World War, he returned to the Old Vic in 1946 and stayed until 1948, at which time he began work in film, principally on the Ealing comedies. He is perhaps best known for playing no fewer than nine characters - all relatives in line to the dukedom - in the 1949 black comedy film Kind Hearts And Coronets, directed by Robert Hamer. Other notable comedies from this period include the similarly jet-black The Ladykillers (about a sweet and eccentric old widow and a band of thieves), The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Man In The White Suit, films which regularly rank amongst the best ever in British cinematic history. In 1952 Guinness would star in his first romantic lead role, opposite Petula Clark in The Card, and in 1958 he wrote the screenplay for, and acted as drunken painter Gulley Jimson in, the successful comedy The Horse's Mouth. Nominated for an Academy Award, the script, an adaptation of Joyce Cary's novel of the same name, follows a vulgar but talented artist - in many ways an early-day Banksy - who struggles to find an outlet for his creative vision.
Away from comedy, Guinness is known for a healthy collaboration with filmmaker David Lean. He stars in no fewer than five Lean projects that were ranked in the British Film Institute's top 50 greatest British films of the 20th century: Lawrence Of Arabia, Great Expectations, The Bridge On The River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, and Oliver Twist.
Guinness was offered a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, was appointed a CBE in 1995, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959. In 1991, he was awarded an honorary doctorate (D.Litt) by Cambridge University for his lifelong service to the performing arts.
Guinness died on 5 August 2000 from liver cancer, having battled glaucoma and prostate cancer over several months. He was interred at Petersfield Cemetery, Hampshire.
- Sir Alec Guinness
- Thursday 2nd April 1914
- Saturday 5th August 2000 (aged 86)
|2016||Richard E. Grant On... Ealing Comedies (as Sir Alec Guinness)||Self (Archive Material)|
|2014|| The Perfect Morecambe & Wise (as Sir Alec Guinness)
||Self (Archive Material)|
|1959||The Horse's Mouth||Actor|
|1959||The Horse's Mouth||Writer (Adapted By)|
|1955||The Ladykillers||Professor Marcus|
|1953||The Captain's Paradise||Captain Henry St. James|
|1951||The Man In The White Suit||Sidney Stratton|
|1951||The Lavender Hill Mob||Holland|
|1950||Last Holiday||George Bird|
|1949||Kind Hearts And Coronets||The Duke D'Ascoyne|
|1949||Kind Hearts And Coronets||The Banker D'Ascoyne|
|1949||Kind Hearts And Coronets||The Parson D'Ascoyne|
|1949||Kind Hearts And Coronets||The General D'Ascoyne|
|1949||Kind Hearts And Coronets||The Admiral D'Ascoyne|
|1949||Kind Hearts And Coronets||Young Ascoyne D'Ascoyne|
|1949||Kind Hearts And Coronets||Young Henry D'Ascoyne|
|1949||Kind Hearts And Coronets||Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne|
Non-comedy TV and film credits might be found here:
Alec Guinness on IMDb