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Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 12:44 GMT
Veteran actor Charles Gray dies
Charles Gray as Bond villain Blofeld
Menacing: Charles Gray as Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever
Actor Charles Gray, best known for playing arch-villain Blofeld in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, has died aged 71.

He died at London's Brompton Hospital on Tuesday morning, his agents said.

The velvety-voiced British star often played smug and supercilious characters, but made his mark as top-grade baddies in numerous stage, screen and TV productions over five decades.

He also gained a curious type of fame when he provided a voice for actor Jack Hawkins, who had his larynx removed in an operation for throat cancer.

Early career

Born in Bournemouth, Gray started his acting career at London's Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in the early 1950s.

A strapping 6ft 2in, he made his professional debut as Charles the Wrestler in an adaptation of Shakespeare's As You Like It.

He most recently appeared as Admiral Balchen in Channel 4's adaptation of Dava Sobel's best-selling novel Longitude, which also starred Michael Gambon and Jeremy Irons.

He also had a role in the 1999 film The Tichborne Claimant.

His other screen credits included The Mirror Crack'd (1980), Cromwell (1970), The Night of the Generals (1967), The Entertainer (1960) and the criminologist in the cult 1975 film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Cult status

Rocky Horror creator Richard O'Brien, who played butler Riff Raff in the 1975 film, 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," he said.

As well as the cat-loving Ernst Stavro Blofeld in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever - Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas also played the role in other 007 films - Gray starred in 1967's You Only Live Twice as Henderson, Bond's contact in Japan.

A spokeswoman for Bond film makers Eon Productions said today: "We are extremely sad to hear this news. Everyone will remember Blofeld with the white cat in his arms. Charles was a great actor in a memorable film."

He was also in great demand as a voice-over artist for commercials.

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