British actor Sir John Mills, who won an Oscar in 1971 for his portrayal of a mute village idiot in “Ryan’s Daughter”, died on Saturday aged 97, a trustee for his estate said.
“Sir John died this morning at around 6:30 (0530 GMT). He’d been ill for about a month with a chest infection,” the trustee told Reuters. “He remained remarkably lucid until the end.”
Mills made his name in patriotic films during and after World War II including “The October Man”, “Scott of the Antarctic”, “Dunkirk” and “Ice Cold in Alex”.
Handsome and dapper, he embodied to many the archetypal British war hero, either as the cool-headed gentleman officer or the resigned working class soldier.
His first big break came in 1946, when he played Pip in a film version of Charles Dickens’ novel “Great Expectations”.
He always maintained his favourite movie was the 1960 production “Tunes of Glory”, in which he co-starred with Alec Guinness as a highly-strung English officer given the job of leading a hostile Scottish army battalion.
He won the best actor award at the Venice Festival for the film and went on to take an Oscar as best supporting actor a decade later for “Ryan’s Daughter”, directed by David Lean.
A versatile actor, Mills had a minor role in pop star Madonna’s 1987 film “Who’s that Girl?” and made his final film appearance in 2003 in “Bright Young Things”, directed by British comedian Stephen Fry.
In it, at the age of 95, he had a cameo role as a man snorting cocaine at a party.
Born on Feb. 22, 1908 in Felixstowe, eastern England, John Lewis Mills started in the theatre at the age of 19, helped in part by his friendship with Noel Coward.
His output in the 1940s and 1950s was prolific. During his long career he appeared in more than 100 films.
He also fathered one of Britain’s leading theatrical families. Both his daughters, Juliet and Hayley, are successful actresses who found their stage feet at an early age in some of their father’s productions.
Mills, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1977, was divorced from his first wife, the actress Aileen Raymond, in 1940 after nine years of marriage. He is survived by his second wife, Mary Hayley Bell; his son, Jonathan, and his daughters.
The funeral service will be held on April 27 in Denham.