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Charles Gray; British Actor Specialized in Icy Villains

March 09, 2000|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Charles Gray, the venerable British character actor whose chillingly villainous roles included James Bond's archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, has died at the age of 71.

Gray died Tuesday at London's Brompton Hospital, his agents said Wednesday. The cause of death was not announced.

A versatile and admired character actor, Gray excelled as a villain and as a colonial type but also portrayed a range of sadistic generals and old-school men of property. His resume encompassed horror films and television series, and he most recently appeared in the TV miniseries "Longitude."

Gray was best known to international audiences as Blofeld, the villain with the white cat in his arms, in the 1971 "Diamonds Are Forever" with Sean Connery as the redoubtable Agent 007.

Just as the Bond character was essayed by different actors, so too was the villain Blofeld, as head of the evil criminal organization SPECTRE.

The villain first appeared in the 1967 film "You Only Live Twice," with British actor Donald Pleasence essaying the role. Next came Telly Savalas as a particularly menacing Blofeld stroking the white cat and wearing the impeccable cream-colored Mao suit in the 1969 outing "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."

Gray, who played the part with high camp, was the third and final Blofeld.

That ostentation and artifice were the actor's trademark tools during the 1960s and 1970s, when he was appearing in numerous campy horror films. He won major international attention in 1975 as the sibilant narrator of the cult film "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," starring Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick. Gray also became the Black Werewolf in "The Beast Must Die" in 1974 and Satan's emissary in "The Devil Rides Out," another British offering in that period.

In 1976, Gray starred as Sherlock Holmes' brother, Mycroft, in the "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution" alongside Nicol Williamson and Robert Duvall. He returned to the same role years later, with the late Jeremy Brett, in "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and "The Return of Sherlock Holmes."

Gray's British television career included roles in "Upstairs Downstairs," "Tales of the Unexpected," and Dennis Potter's "Blackeyes."

Early stage successes included a string of Shakespearean roles at Stratford-upon-Avon and London's Old Vic theater.

"Rocky Horror" creator Richard O'Brien said that in real life Gray could not have been more different from his on-screen persona.

"He was a charming man with a dry wit and a low tolerance of pomposity in others," said O'Brien.

There was no immediate word of survivors or funeral plans.

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