Laurence Olivier – The Father of all Actors

Day 65 of Colourisation Project – July 11

Twenty five years ago on this day July 11, 1989one of the most acclaimed actors of the 20th century, Sir Laurence Kerr Olivier passed away after a long illness. Born in England in 1907, Laurence Olivier is best known for his career-defining Shakespearean roles on both stage and screen as well as some memorable performances in modern classics such as Wuthering Heights and Marathon Man.

In a long and distinguished career spanning six decades, his three Shakespeare films as actor-director, Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), and Richard III (1955), are among the best of the bard at the cinema. His stage roles surpassed 120 including Richard III, Macbeth, Romeo, Hamlet, Uncle Vanya, and Archie Rice in The Entertainer.

Laurence Olivier

Publicity shot 1940 – Joan Fontaine & Laurenece Olivier in Rebecca – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Although Olivier preferred the theatre, his film career flourished. He appeared in nearly sixty films, including William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights (1939), Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Robert Z. Leonard’s Pride and Prejudice (1940),  Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Sleuth (1972), John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976), and Franklin J. Schaffner’s The Boys from Brazil (1978).

In 1963 Olivier became the founding artistic director of the National Theatre Company, a post he held for ten years. The largest stage in the National Theatre building was later named after him.

After retiring from the stage in 1974, Olivier starred in many TV productions including Long Day’s Journey into Night (1973), The Merchant of Venice (1973), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976), Brideshead Revisited (1981), and King Lear (1983). He kept working on-screen right up until the year before his death in 1989.

During his career Olivier received many awards and accolades for his acting.  He was nominated twelve times for an Oscar, of which he won two. He also won five Emmy Awards from nine nominations. Additionally, he was a three-time Golden Globe and BAFTA winner.

In 1947 at the age of 40, he became the youngest actor to be knighted— by King George VI—and the first to be elevated to the peerage—in 1970, by Queen Elizabeth II. Elizabeth II dubbed him Baron Olivier of Brighton, which permitted him to sit in the House of Lords. Olivier also received the Order of Merit.

He was married three times, to Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh and Joan Plowright, all actresses. In 1984 Laurence Olivier published his autobiography, Confessions of an Actor.

Olivier battled cancer for the last ten years of his life and passed away on July 11, 1989, at his home in West Sussex, England. He is one of the few actors to be buried in Westminster Abbey’s esteemed Poet’s Corner.


“Surely we have always acted; it’s an instinct inherent in all of us. Some of us are better at it than others but we all do it.” Laurence Olivier


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3 Responses to Laurence Olivier – The Father of all Actors

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