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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Rumpole star McKern dies
Actor Leo McKern
McKern's career spanned more than 50 years
Actor Leo McKern, who played the TV barrister Rumpole of the Bailey, has died aged 82.

He had been ill for some time and died at a nursing home near Bath, Somerset, where he had lived, according to his agent.

McKern was moved to the nursing home a few weeks before his death, and had suffered from diabetes and other health problems.

His career spanned more than 50 years - from acclaimed Shakespeare stage roles to playing Clang in The Beatles' 1965 film Help!

Leo McKern
McKern was praised for his commanding stage presence
But it was as the blustering barrister Horace Rumpole in the TV series, written by John Mortimer, that he became a star around the world.

A private family funeral will be held, according to his wife, actress Jane Holland.

Author John Mortimer has led tributes to McKern, while his Rumpole co-stars including Patricia Hodge and Peter Bowles have expressed their sadness at McKern's death.

High-profile members of the legal profession, including Geoffrey Robertson QC and Nigel Pascoe QC, have also paid tribute to the actor.

Born in Sydney, McKern was able to turn his hand to comedy, the classics and serious contemporary parts with ease, and became famed for his commanding stage presence.

Leo McKern
McKern first played Horace Rumpole in 1975
He moved to the UK at the age of 26 and spent several years with London's Old Vic theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company despite early difficulties such as a glass eye and an Australian accent.

He made his film debut in 1952, and went onto take acclaimed roles in films including A Man For All Seasons in 1966, Ryan's Daughter in 1970 and The French Lieutenant's Woman in 1981.

He also starred cult sci-fi TV series The Prisoner.

He first filled the role of the colourful, quick-witted Rumpole in 1975, and was persuaded by Mortimer to continue as the character for seven series, the last of which was made in 1992.

Leo McKern receiving The Order of Australia at Buckingham Palace
He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1983
Writing in 1994, Mortimer said McKern was "shapeless, lovable and could make you laugh and cry".

"His acting exists where I always hope my writing will be: about two feet above the ground, a little larger than life, but always taking off from reality," he wrote.

Despite having to be persuaded to return to the role, McKern once said: "With Rumpole, one comes to be reconciled to the fact that it isn't half a bad thing to be stuck with."

His last film role was a small part in 1999's drama The Story of Father Damien, and he last appeared on a West End stage in 2000.

McKern had two daughters - Abigail, also an actress, and Harriet. He had one grandchild.

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The BBC's Richard Miron
"Many of those who worked with him have been honouring him"


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