Oscar winner Paul Scofield dies aged 86

( AFP ) - Paul Scofield, who won an Oscar for his role in "A Man For All Seasons" and was one of this country's greatest Shakespearean actors, has died at the age of 86, his agent said Thursday.

Scofield died peacefully in a hospital near his home in Sussex where he was being treated for leukaemia.

Considered one of the leading classical actors of a generation that included Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier, he won an Oscar in 1966 for portraying the Roman Catholic statesman Sir Thomas More in the film of Robert Bolt's play.

Scofield made his name on the London stage, playing many of the greatest roles in theatre.

Critics described him as "monumental but reassuring" and as having a voice "rumbling up from an antique crypt".

His last major film was a 1996 screen version of Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible", in which he sported a crop of wavy white hair and starred alongside Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.

Judi Dench, a fellow British Oscar winner who appeared with Scofield in the 1989 film of "Henry V", led the tributes to him, saying: "He was a great friend and a great man."

Kenneth Branagh, who directed Scofield in "Henry V", said the acting profession had lost a "colossus" and described his stage work as "electrifying".

"In every medium he graced he was a master... His performance on the film of 'A Man For All Seasons" captures his greatness -- the humour, the humanity, the intelligence, the generosity of spirit, the integrity," he said.

"He made goodness and intellect sexy... He was always his own man. He was an inspiration both personally and professionally. Adored and revered by his colleagues, this greatest of actors was also the humblest and kindest of men."

Scofield turned down a knighthood because he wanted to remain "plain Mister" but he was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1956 after a highly acclaimed appearance in "Hamlet" in Cold War-era Moscow.

He once said: "If you want a title, what's wrong with Mister? If you have always been that, then why lose your title?"

David Paul Scofield was born on January 21, 1922, at Hurstpierpoint in Sussex where his father was the village schoolmaster.

He left school aged 17 to begin training as a professional actor and was hardly ever out of work from that day on, appearing in more than a dozen films, including Robert Redford's "Quiz Show" in 1995.

A 2004 poll of actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), including Ian McKellen, Ian Richardson, Antony Sher and Corin Redgrave, voted his 1962 King Lear -- a role he also played in a 1971 film - as the best ever.

Redgrave called him Thursday "the greatest actor I ever worked with".

Scofield married Joy Parker, a fellow actor, in 1943, and they had two children. She survives him.

An intensely private man, Scofield shunned the bright lights of film premieres, preferring instead a quiet life in the English countryside.

He once said: "People always ask me what I do down there, and it seems so silly. I mean, there's everything to do. There are very good walks -- I like to go walking."

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