Terribly sad news today: The Daily Telegraph has announced that esteemed actor Nicol Williamson, described by playwright John Osbourne (Tom Jones) as "the greatest actor since Marlon Brando," has passed away. According to his son Luke, whose mother was Williamson's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution co-star (and then-wife) Jill Townsend, he died from complications due to esophogeal cancer shortly before Christmas. The delay in the news can probably be attributed to the thespian's insistence that "no fuss be made about his passing."
Although Williamson received rave reviews for his work in the theater, he's best known to most audiences as Merlin in John Boorman's wonderful fantasy epic Excalibur, as the Ruby Slipper-wearing Gnome King in the deliciously dark Return to Oz, and to younger folks as Cogliostro in the fairly disastrous 1998 feature film adaptation of Todd MacFarlane's comic book series Spawn, which now stands as the actor's final film performance.
Williamson was a firebrand of an actor, bringing a unique energy to many of his classic performances. He was also known for controversial back-and-on-stage shenanigans, like breaking character to mock his co-star and the play itself in a stage performance of Paul Rudnick's I Hate Hamlet. In 1968 he stopped in the middle of a performance of Hamlet, apologized to the audience, and walked off stage claiming he was going to retire. His iconic portrayal of Merlin in Excalibur was made more difficult when director John Boorman cast Helen Mirren as his quasi-love interest Morgan Le Fay, after the two had engaged in a brief affair on the set of MacBeth. Reportedly they both hated each other.
The man Samuel Beckett called "touched by genius" has passed, and although we hadn't seen him on screen in a long time, he will still be sorely missed. Rest in peace, Nicol Williamson. To paraphrase your own performance, you were a dream to some, even if you were a nightmare to others.