Tony-winning actor also had roles in ‘Cheers,’ ‘West Wing’
Roger Rees, the lanky Tony Award-winning actor and director who made his mark onstage as Nicholas Nickleby in a legendarily demanding production and became a mainstay on Broadway playing Gomez in “The Addams Family” and Chita Rivera’s doomed lover in “The Visit,” died July 10 in New York. He was 71.
His representative, Rick Miramontez, confirmed the death. Mr. Rees had abruptly left “The Visit” in late May to undergo a medical procedure.
Mr. Rees, who was born in Wales, played the snobbish Robin Colcord on TV’s “Cheers” in the early 1990s and the British ambassador, Lord John Marbury, in “The West Wing” in the early 2000s. Other recent TV credits include “Elementary” and “The Good Wife.”
But he was probably best known playing the title character in the Royal Shakespeare Co.’s original eight-hour production of Charles Dickens’ “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” in England and then on Broadway in the early 1980s. He won an Olivier Award and then a Tony. When it was adapted to TV in 1982, he earned an Emmy Award nomination.
Reviewing the Broadway production in 1981, New York Times theater critic Frank Rich lauded Mr. Rees for bringing “so much flaring sensitivity and intelligence that he takes the goo out of the young man’s righteousness.” He earned two further Tony nominations in 1995 for “Indiscretions” and in 2012 for co-directing “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a Peter Pan prequel. Other Broadway roles were in “The Winslow Boy,” “Uncle Vanya,” “The Rehearsal,” “The Red Shoes” and “London Assurance.”
Mr. Rees was born in Aberystwyth, Wales, on May 5, 1944, and was the son of a policeman and a dancer who became a shop clerk. He grewup in London, where he studied art at the Slade School of Fine Art and was a painter’s apprentice. That led to his painting sets at a theater in the summer of 1965, and he was asked to appear in a show.
In 1967, he began performing with the Royal Shakespeare Co. “Ben Kingsley joined at the same time I did, and we spent four years moving scenery and Peggy Ashcroft around the stage,” he told the Boston Globe. “Eventually we got lines, but only after four years. It was fantastic.”
He remained more than two decades with the Royal Shakespeare Co. and served as the artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts from 2004 to 2007. He was also the associate artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic in England for two years starting in 1985.
Mr. Rees’s film debut was in “Star 80,” the Bob Fosse-directed biography of Dorothy Stratten, the murdered Playboy Playmate. Mr. Rees played a character modeled on the film director Peter Bogdanovich. He played the Sheriff of Rottingham in Mel Brooks’s “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” in 1993 and was in “The Scorpion King” in 2002 and “The Pink Panther” in 2006.
He is survived by his husband, Rick Elice, the playwright, whose credits include the “Peter Pan” prequel “Peter and the Starcatcher,” which Mr. Rees co-directed.