Leo McKern

Active - 1952 - 1999  |   Born - Mar 16, 1920 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia  |   Died - Jul 23, 2002   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Adventure, Mystery, Crime

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Jowly, curmudgeonly Australian actor Leo McKern was seen in over 200 stage productions during his five-decade career. After several comic-villain film assignments, McKern briefly became an icon of the Swingin' '60s with his portrayal of the blustering cult leader in the Beatles' Help (1965). He has since been seen as Cromwell in A Man For All Seasons (1966), as Professor Moriarty in Gene Wilder's The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1986), and as a pigheaded ex-communist civil engineer in Travelling North (1986), a role which won him several industry awards. In the late 1970s, Leo McKern scored an enormous hit as the title character in the British TV series Rumpole of the Bailey, which ran off and on from 1977 through 1992. Rumpole has been both bogy and blessing to McKern, as he revealed to Vanity Fair magazine in 1995: "I consider that my best performance ever was as Peer Gynt. But if I get an obit in the London Times, they will say, '...of course, known to millions as Rumpole.'"

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  • Worked as an engineering apprentice and artist.
  • Served as a sapper with the Australian Army during World War II.
  • Performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1952 to 1954.
  • Awarded the A.O. in 1983, for services to the performing arts.
  • In 1987, won the AFI Best Actor Award for his role in Travelling North.