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Irish acting legend Milo O'Shea passes away at the age of 86

In memoriam - Irish acting legend Milo O’Shea passes away after battle with Alzheimers

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Irish acting legend Milo O'Shea passes away at the age of 86

Milo O’Shea, hailed as one of Ireland’s most successful actors, died peacefully at the age of 86 after battling complications from Alzheimers for a number of years.  Twice nominated for Best Actor Tony Awards, he appeared in more than 90 productions on stage, film and television, working with major talents on both sides of the Atlantic including Sidney Lumet, Franco Zeffirelli, Bing Crosby, Paul Newman and Jane Fonda.

O’Shea’s first Tony Award nomination was for the production of Staircase with Eli Wallach.  His second nomination was for his performance in Mass Appeal which also earned him a Drama League Award and the Outer Critic’s Circle Award.  

He began his career as a boy actor in his native Dublin, playing such parts as Ptolemy in Caesar and Cleopatra and Oliver in Oliver Twist.  He continued his career as a leading actor at the Gate Theatre and as a revue artist at the Gaiety Theatre with Jimmy O’Dea, Maureen Potter, Rosaleen Linehan and Fergus Linehan.  

His London debut was opposite Dame Sybil Thorndike in Treasure Hunt directed by Sir John Gielgud.  Subsequent West End productions include Moliere’s School for Wives, John M. Synge’s The Heart’s a Wonder, Molnar’s The Wolf, Once Upon a Mattress, Hans Christian Andersen, Can-Can and Corpse, which transferred to the Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway.  

O’Shea made his Broadway debut in Staircase.  He then co-starred with Angela Lansbury in the musical Dear World, and with Ruth Gordon and Lynn Redgrave in Mrs. Warren’s Profession.  

This was followed by Comedians, directed by Mike Nichols; A Touch of the Poet with Jason Robards and Geraldine Fitzgerald; Meet Me in St. Louis with George Hearn and Betty Garrett; Educating Rita with Kitty Sullivan; Philadelphia, Here I Come with Robert Sean Leonard and My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison.

O’Shea’s numerous films include The Verdict, Romeo and Juliet, Barbarella, Ulysses, Hebrew Lesson, Theatre of Blood, The Dream Team, Opportunity Knocks, The Playboys, The Matchmaker and The Butcher Boy.

He had a number of plays written for him for British television including Harold Pinter’s Night School and Hugh Leonard’s Me Mammy which was turned into a successful BBC television series.  His last stage appearance in Ireland was The Sunshine Boys with David Kelly.  

His appearances on American television include QB VII, Silent Song (Italia Award), Peter Lundy and the Medicine Hat Stallion (Western Heritage Award) and guest appearances in St. Elsewhere, Golden Girls, The Commish, Who’s the Boss, Cheers, Frasier, OZ for HBO and an ABC movie of the week, Swing Vote with Andy Garcia and Harry Belafonte.   d

In 1984, having inspired the band’s name, O’Shea reprised his Barbarella role for the Duran Duran concert film Arena. 

O’Shea appeared as a guest in an episode of The West Wing for NBC, as Supreme Court Justice Roy Ashland.  He also starred with David Kelly in Rough in Theatre 1, part of a special project that filmed all the plays of Samuel Beckett for international distribution, and which includes such actors as Sir Michael Gambon, John Hurt, Jeremy Irons and Julianne Moore. 

His last U.S. performance was as Finian in the revival of Finian’s Rainbow produced by the Irish Repertory Theatre and presented at the Westport Country Playhouse, with artistic director Joanne Woodward.)

O’Shea is survived by his wife, actress, singer and harpist Kitty Sullivan. The couple met while performing on stage together.  

Following their marriage they continued to work together, most notably in Educating Rita and the 1981 Broadway revival of My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison.  He is also survived by his son Colm and daughter-in-law Deirdre and their three children, Paul, Mark and Ellen. Also his son Steven and his partner Melanie Carrick, as well as his cousin Roisin White in Canada and extended family in Ireland. 

The funeral will take place in his native city of Dublin where there will be a memorial followed by a memorial in his adopted city of New York, the city he loved so well and so loved him in return. 

O’Shea was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ireland and received honorary doctorates from University College Dublin and Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

Ireland’s Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan paid tribute to O’Shea, who he called a “giant of stage and screen.”

“Over his life, he reached the widest audiences from across the globe -- on stage, on film, and on television -- and was internationally recognized for the quality of his work,” Deenihan said.

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