Sir Nigel Hawthorne, has died aged 72. His agent confirmed that he died at 0930 GMT on 26th Dec 01 at his Hertfordshire home.

He had been receiving treatment for cancer for the last couple of years. "It was a heart attack, maybe brought on by the strain of it all. He had been battling pancreatic cancer for nearly two years," his agent, Ken McReddie, told Reuters.

Hawthorne, who began acting in the 1950s and was knighted in 1999, was "a brilliant actor and a wonderful friend", said McReddie, who was his agent for more than 30 years.

He was born in Coventry in 1929, but moved with his family to South Africa soon afterwards. However, aged 22, left for England with £12 in his pocket to find happiness on the British stage. His West End credits include The Clandestine Marriage at the Queens in 1994 and King Lear at the Barbican in 1999.

In 1977, writers Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn saw Hawthorne on stage and gave him the role of Sir Humphrey Appleby in their new political TV sitcom Yes, Minister, playing opposite Paul Eddington and Derek Foulds.

The title role in The Madness of King George was, however, always going to be Hawthorne's. After his Olivier-winning portrayal on stage of the inspiring but insane monarch, scriptwriter Alan Bennett insisted the film role went to the actor. Hawthorne earned an Oscar nomination for the part.

Sir Nigel, a vegetarian, was "outed" as a homosexual by American newspapers in the run-up to his 1995 Oscars' appearance.

He lived quietly in a 15th century Hertfordshire manor house with his partner Trevor Bentham, a theatre manager and screen-writer, from 1979.

Links to obituary

BBC Online
Guardian Unlimited
Yahoo News

Looking for the best seats...