Actor, comedian, novelist, columnist, noted wit, vocal gay rights advocate, and general bon vivant, Stephen Fry is nothing if not one of the more versatile and outspoken talents to come along in the latter half of the 20th century. Since beginning his creative partnership with Hugh Laurie in 1981, Fry has become a fixture on British television with programs such as A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Jeeves and Wooster. In addition, he has made a number of films and established himself as a respected commentator on the various happenings in British society.
Born in London on August 24, 1957, Fry was the second of three children born to a homemaker mother and physicist/investor father. The family moved to Norfolk when Fry was very young and he was sent off for a public school education at the age of eight. Over the course of his education, first at Uppingham and then at Stout's Hill, Fry got into lavish amounts of trouble thanks to his tendency to lie, cheat, and steal, a habit that would land him in jail for three months when he was 18. After serving time at Pucklechurch prison for credit card fraud, Fry began to turn his life around, beginning with an acceptance to Queens College, Cambridge. It was at Cambridge that he began doing comedy, performing with the legendary Cambridge University Footlights Club (previously home to various Monty Python members, among others). Other Footlighters at the time included Emma Thompson, Tony Slattery, and Hugh Laurie, the last of whom was introduced to Fry by Thompson.
Fry and Laurie began their collaboration in 1981, performing Footlights revues at various venues around Great Britain, including the Edinburgh Festival, and doing a three month tour of Australia. In 1984, after making occasional television appearances for a couple of years (including a hilarious send-up of the Oxbridge set on an episode of The Young Ones), Fry found great critical and financial success when he was asked to rewrite Noel Gay's Me and My Girl. The stage production, which starred Fry's Cambridge friend Emma Thompson, won wide acclaim, eventually garnering Fry a 1987 Tony nomination.
Throughout the remainder of the decade, Fry won fame in his native country for his work on various television and radio shows, and in supporting roles in a number of films. Some of his more notable television work included A Bit of Fry and Laurie (1987) and Rowan Atkinson's Black Adder series, while he made appearances in films such as A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and the same year's A Handful of Dust. Meanwhile, Fry was also gaining recognition for his columns for The Daily Telegraph, as well as a certain amount of notoriety for various well-publicized statements he made in the press. Two of the more memorable of these were a magazine article in which he declared his celibacy and a television appearance where he claimed the U.K. record for saying "f***" the most times in one live broadcast.
The 1990s brought more film and television work for Fry, as well as the publication of three best-selling novels The Liar, The Hippopotamus, and Making History, as well as Paperweight, a collection of his columns, and Moab Is My Washpot, his autobiography. In addition to the transatlantic recognition he received for his books, some of the films he appeared in gave him fame beyond the PBS set (who had become further acquainted with him via the acclaimed series Jeeves and Wooster, in which he starred with Laurie). Most memorable of these were: Peter's Friends (1992), in which Fry co-starred with Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, and various members of the Footlights set; John Schlesinger's Cold Comfort Farm (1995); Wilde (1997); Spice World (1998); and A Civil Action (1998). He got particular attention for his work in Wilde, owing both to the filmmakers' decision not to gloss over the details of the Victorian playwright's sex life and to Fry's uncanny physical resemblance to Oscar Wilde, something that no doubt helped to enhance the actor's performance.
The following decade found the next generation getting acquainted with Fry as the narrator of the popular Harry Potter series of audiobooks and videogames, with film roles on The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (as famed British clairvoyant and astrologer Maurice Woodruff), MirrorMask, and V for Vendetta keeping him a familiar face on the big screen. And despite candidly detailing his struggle with bipolar disorder in the 2006 documentary Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, it was Fry's role as host of the long-running comedy panel show QI, which debuted in 2003, that provided his fans with the kind of witty and irreverent social commentary they had come to expect from the multi-talented star. With four new comedians gathering each week to share personal anecdotes, answer trivia questions, and quip about the latest headlines, QI was always fresh and relevant even after being on the air for nearly a decade.
Fry continued to work in all forms of media, and expanded his fan base by taking high-profile roles like Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) and playing the Mayor of Laketown two of the three Hobbit movies, The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and The Battle of the Five Armies (2014). He also had a recurring role in the series 24: Live Another Day, playing the British Prime Minister.