Denholm Elliott

Active - 1949 - 2018  |   Born - May 31, 1922 in London, England  |   Died - Oct 6, 1992   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Thriller, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

A much-loved character actor, British native Denholm Elliott performed in over 100 films during the course of his long career. Elliott, who was educated at Malvern College, went on stage just after World War II, and made his first film, Dear Mr. Prohack, in 1949. Often coming across as a sort of British Ralph Bellamy, Elliot specialized in playing pleasant but ineffectual types during the 1950s, switching to dignified and slightly stuffy characters as he grew grayer. In 1964, he made a major impression on international audiences by playing the tattered gentleman who teaches Alan Bates the tricks of social and financial climbing in Nothing but the Best -- only to be strangled by Bates with his old school tie. With tight lips and taciturn glances, Elliott was the official who closed down Elliott Gould's burlesque house in The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968).

A gentler but no less authoritative role came in 1981 as Harrison Ford's immediate superior Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark (reprising the part in 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), while in 1984 Elliott was unforgettably waspish as the dying social lion who dictates his own death notice in The Razor's Edge (the role played by Clifton Webb in the 1946 version). In 1986, he played one of his most endearing roles, that of the free-thinking Mr. Emerson in A Room with a View. In between these engagements, Elliott portrayed Dan Aykroyd's -- and then Eddie Murphy's -- refined butler in Trading Places (1983). His portrayal won him his first British Academy Award; he also earned BAFTAs for his work in A Private Function (1984) and Defence of the Realm (1985). Sadly, Elliott's still-thriving career was cut off in 1992 -- shortly after he completed the comedy Noises Off -- when he died from complications brought about by AIDS.

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  • Served in the Royal Air Force during WWII and was held prisoner for three years in Germany.
  • His film debut was in 1949's Dear Mr. Prohack.
  • His first Hollywood picture was 1965's King Rat, about survival in a WWII POW camp, but his breakthrough film was 1966's Alfie, in which he played a back-alley abortionist.
  • Was memorable as a hard-drinking, blacklisted film director in the 1974 Richard Dreyfuss drama The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.
  • Known to many Americans for his role as valet to Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd's characters in the 1982 comedy Trading Places.
  • Appeared in more than 100 movies throughout his career.
  • Inspired a saying among admiring British actors: "Never act with children, dogs or Denholm Elliott."
  • In 1988 was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire), an order of chivalry.
  • Following his 1992 AIDS-related death, his widow, Susan, helped found the Denholm Elliott Project, to benefit HIV patients.