Dudley Moore, Comic Charmer, Dies at 66
Thu Mar 28, 8:59 AM ET
By PETER M. NICHOLS The New York Times
Dudley Moore, the multitalented British actor, comedian and musician noted for his performances in the 1960's stage revue "Beyond the Fringe" and the films "10" and "Arthur," died yesterday at his home in Plainfield, N.J. He was 66.
A spokeswoman for the actor said that the cause of death was pneumonia as a complication of progressive supranuclear palsy, a disease that attacks various neurological functions.
A diminutive man, Mr. Moore was renowned for his affinity for tall women, usually blonde he was married and divorced four times and a versatility that carried him from the stage in the 1960's to Hollywood movies in the 70's and 80's and finally to the concert stage as a pianist in the early 90's. But the big career predicted for him after his movie successes evaporated in a string of bad roles, misconceived projects and stormy personal relations that in recent years often landed him front and center in the British tabloids.
Mr. Moore's climb to prominence began with "Beyond the Fringe," a comic revue he created with three other young performers: Peter Cook, with whom Mr. Moore had a 15-year professional relationship; Alan Bennett, a fellow Oxford graduate of Mr. Moore's, and Jonathan Miller.
A savagely hilarious lampoon of deadly serious public issues, the show had its origins at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960, moving on to London and then to Broadway, where it played from 1962 to 1964 and had a brief revival in 1965.
When it opened in New York, the country was in the throes of the Cuban missile crisis, and audiences were nervous. Cook and company showed no mercy. "Get out of the danger area," Mr. Cook warned. "That's where the bomb drops."
Mr. Moore planted himself in the audience at the John Golden Theater and fired questions at his three co-players onstage. "Please, panel," he asked, "following the holocaust, when will public services be resumed?" Mr. Cook responded that all was provided for but added that at first it may be only "a skeleton service."
While his colleagues concentrated on political commentary, Mr. Moore took to the keyboard for a wild rendition of the "Colonel Bogey March," which rattled on thunderous chord after thunderous chord while he desperately tried to come up with an ending.
After the show closed, Mr. Moore collaborated on various projects with Mr. Cook, who died in 1995. The pair performed as a two-man group and in the late 1960's made albums, a moderately successful BBC series called "Not Only . . . but Also" about two working-class fellows, and several films.
Throughout his career Mr. Moore's fortes were clowning and a physical humor reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin. Years after he had become a star in "10" and "Arthur," he felt that his brand of comedy annoyed his more erudite "Beyond the Fringe" colleagues.
"Peter says, 'I can't understand Dudley's success,' " Mr. Moore said in an interview, "and Jonathan says, 'I think he can do better.' I think they feel I'm a lightweight, doing lightweight material, having a lightweight life." Mr. Miller once described Mr. Moore as a "grubby cherub."
A combination of circumstances seemed always to put Mr. Moore on the defensive. Born on April 19, 1935, in the East London suburb of Dagenham, he was the son of a railroad electrician and a secretary. Suffering from a club foot and small stature, he had a boyhood marred by abuse from his peers.
"I think most comedians start off defending themselves with comedy," he once said. "They feel inferior in some way. I certainly did feel inferior. Because of class. Because of strength. Because of height. If I'd been able to hit someone in the nose, I wouldn't have been a comic."
Picked by The Wishman.