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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Robert Stephens
Born July 14, 1931(1931-07-14)
Bristol, England
Died 12 November 1995 (aged 64)
London, England
Occupation Actor
Years active 1956–1995
Spouse(s) Patricia Quinn (1995-1995)
Maggie Smith (1967-1974)
Tarn Bassett (1956-1967)
Nora Ann Simmonds (1951-1952)

Sir Robert Stephens (14 July 1931 – 12 November 1995) was a leading British actor in the early years of England's Royal National Theatre.




Early years

Stephens was born in Shirehampton Bristol, England, and rose to become one of the most respected actors of his generation. By the 1960s he was regarded as the natural successor to Laurence Olivier.


In 1949 Stephens won a scholarship to Esme Church's Bradford Civic Theatre School, Yorkshire, (where he met his first wife Nora, a fellow student). His first professional engagement was with the Caryl Jenner Mobile Theatre, which he followed in 1951 by a year of more challenging parts in repertory at the Royalty Theatre, Morecambe, followed by seasons of touring and at the Hippodrome, Preston. The London director Tony Richardson saw a performance at the Royalty and this led to an offer of a place in the "momentous" first season of English Stage Company at the Royal Court in 1956. His success was assured.[1]

His other films in this period included a minor role as Prince Escalus in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet (1968), as well as a starring role in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and the science fiction film, The Asphyx (1973). Stephens and his third wife, actress Maggie Smith, appeared together on stage and in film, notably in the film version of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in 1969. However, following his departure from the National Theatre in 1970 and the breakup of their marriage in 1973 he suffered a career slump, not helped by heavy drinking.

Although he continued to work on stage (notably in the National Theatre's The Mysteries in 1986), film (The Fruit Machine in 1988, a/k/a Wonderland in the USA), and television (notably in the role of Abner Brown in the 1984 BBC TV dramatisation of the children's classic The Box of Delights and as the Master of an Oxford college in an episode of Inspector Morse), it wasn't until the 1990s that he re-established himself at the forefront of his profession, when the Royal Shakespeare Company invited him to play Falstaff in Henry IV, part 1 and then the title role in King Lear. He was awarded the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award in 1993 for Best Actor, for his performance as Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He was knighted in 1995.

Stephens provided the voice of Aragorn in the acclaimed 1981 BBC Radio serialisation of The Lord of the Rings.

Personal life

Stephens was married four times:

Following years of ill health, he died from cancer at the age of 64, eleven months after his knighthood.


  1. ^ a b Stephens, Robert; Coveney, Michael (1995). Knight Errant. London: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 11–15. ISBN 0340649704. 
  2. ^ Coveney, Michael (2004). "Stephens, Sir Robert Graham (1931–1995)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/60387. 

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