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Peter Ustinov 2004-03-29

Posted by clype in Humanities, In Memoriam, Intolerance.

Oscar-winning actor and playwright Peter Ustinov, one of the world’s most entertaining raconteurs and mimics, has died at the age of 82.

Author of more than a dozen books and even more theatrical works in a career spanning more than 60 years, Ustinov died of heart failure in a clinic near his home on the shores of Lake Geneva on Sunday night [2004-03-28], his family said. The actor and humorist, who was also well known for charity work, had been in hospital since shortly after Christmas when he was taken ill on his return from a holiday in Thailand.


‘It was not a surprise, he was pretty ill. He had had a busy life and he was tired’, his son Igor Ustinov told Reuters [news agency] in a telephone interview.

‘But he certainly was not ready to go’, he added.

Ustinov, who spoke more than half a dozen languages, won “Oscars” for his roles in the films ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Topkapi’. The multi-talented entertainer, who was knighted by the Queen but did not like to be known as ‘Sir Peter’, completed his last film as an actor, about the life of 16th century German protestant leader Martin Luther, late last year.

Although often confined to a wheelchair by diabetes and a weak heart, he continued to appear in public until his final illness, delighting television audiences across Europe with his stories and raising money for charities, particularly the United Nations’ Children Fund (UNICEF) for which he was an ambassador. Just 18 months ago, Ustinov told Reuters [news agency] in an interview he was happy to work until he dropped

‘As long as I can be guaranteed that I won’t know in advance when it’s going to happen’.

Richly Varied Life:

He led a richly varied life as playwright, novelist, film director, academic and as an active political campaigner against war. Shortly before his death, the University of Vienna inaugurated the Ustinov Institute, dedicated to studying the history of prejudice and its impact on people, politics and conflict resolution.

‘This was something that inspired him a lot. He wanted his ideas for the future to become a reality,’ Igor said.

Born in London of Russian parentage, Ustinov was a London revue star as a teenager and wrote his first play at 19. He made his first feature film at 25. He starred in, produced and directed his own plays in London, New York, Berlin, Paris and Rome. He wrote novels to fill in time whilst hanging around on Hollywood film sets.

‘He was one of the funniest men I have ever met’, said Ustinov’s biographer John Miller.

‘He had enough careers for about six other men; he was phenomenally busy’.

Ustinov interviewed a string of world leaders, was garlanded with international honours and ranked as one of the finest imitators in the business. On stages across Europe, the United States of America and Australia, he captured by caricature an international Who’s Who of characters, insisting:

‘I don’t rehearse the faces at all. I just feel like the people’.

Ustinov was the first to admit that laughter had been a life-long drug, confessing:

‘I was irrevocably betrothed to laughter, the sound of which has always seemed to me to be the most civilised music in the world’.

He was once asked what would be his ideal epitaph. With a familiar twinkle in his eye, he swiftly decided on the perfect inscription for his tombstone:

“Keep off the grass”.




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