Sir Alec Guinness, the man whose name is synonymous with that of Star Wars Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, would have been 107 years old today.
Sir Alec left us a bit more than 20 years ago, having passed away on August 5, 2000 at age 86.
It was said of George Lucas that Sir Alec was chosen to play Kenobi because the actor had both inner strength and a gentleness that corresponded well to the iconic character. Guiness earned a Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the 1977 film Star Wars.
Some actors make a lasting contribution to the legacy of motion pictures in their lifetimes, and Sir Alec Guiness has perhaps received more opportunity to do so than most. It has now been 54 years since Sir Alec Guiness first appeared on the silver screen as Kenobi, and his face and voice are legend.
Although he eventually spoke kindly of the Star Wars franchise following the film’s release, Guinness famously hated working on the first movie and often spoke quite negatively about the film. In fact, he even went so far as to refer to it as “fairy-tale rubbish” – but he also spoke on George Lucas’ behalf regarding the film, offering the thought that “there was more to the film than you think”.
Guinness was one of three major British actors, along with Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, who, immediately after the Second World War, successfully transitioned from Shakespearean theatre in their home country to Hollywood blockbusters. As well as an Academy Award, he has also won a BAFTA Award, Golden Globe and a Tony Award.
After an early career on the stage, Guinness was featured in several of the Ealing Comedies, including The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he played eight different characters.
Guiness was already a towering talent by the time he was cast in Star Wars, and very well known in the cinema for his six collaborations with David Lean: as Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946), as Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948), as Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor), as Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), as Yevgraf in Doctor Zhivago (1965) (the sixth of these was A Passage to India in 1984, in which he played Professor Godbole).
In 1959, he was knighted by Elizabeth II for services to the arts. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, received the Academy Honorary Award for lifetime achievement in 1980 and the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award in 1989.
Guiness worked with British director and cinematographer Ronald Neame in “Tunes of Glory” and “The Horse’s Mouth.” In “Ronald Neame: On the Director,” Neame tells how Guinness was so good on camera that directors had trouble cutting away from him.
Besides his portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Guinness won acclaim for many roles on live theater, television, and film, including his Academy Award-winning role as Lt. Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai. He was honored with a knighthood in 1959, and an Academy Honorary Award in 1980.
Sir Alec Guiness will forever be a part of one of the greatest modern mythologies ever created.
May the Force Be With You, Sir Alec.
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