NEW YORK (AP) — Roger Rees, the lanky Tony Award-winning Welsh-born actor and director who made his mark onstage as Nicholas Nickleby and later played English multi-millionaire Robin Colcord on the TV show “Cheers,” has died. He was 71.
Rees died Friday night at his home in New York after a brief battle with cancer, said his representative, Rick Miramontez. Rees had abruptly left “The Visit” on Broadway in late May to undergo a medical procedure.
“The world has lost a great actor, gentleman and soul,” said Chita Rivera, Rees’ co-star in “The Visit” this year. “I have lost a beautiful new friend, one I was looking forward to spending exciting valuable time with.”
Rees played the snobbish Robin Colcord on TV’s “Cheers” — he was known for his condescending remarks and rivalry with Sam Malone and for dating Rebecca Howe — and the British ambassador, Lord John Marbury, in “The West Wing.” Other recent TV credits include “Elementary” and “The Good Wife.”
But he was probably best known onstage for playing the title character in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s original production of Charles Dickens’ “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” in England and on Broadway. He won an Olivier Award and then a Tony. When it was adapted to TV, he earned an Emmy Award nomination.
“Roger was inspirational. He had the perpetual boyishness and mischief of a Peter Pan, extraordinary wit combined with a gift for self-satire, and dauntless optimism coupled with deep-rooted belief. All these ingredients went into his acting, and I am sure, into his directing, and gave him an aura of rare, generous spirited humanity,” said Trevor Nunn, who directed “Nicholas Nickleby.”
Rees also played Malcolm in an acclaimed 1976 stage and 1978 television production of “Macbeth” and starred in the original production of “The Real Thing” by Tom Stoppard in London in 1984.
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 Addams Family,” ”Uncle Vanya,” ”The Rehearsal,” ”The Red Shoes” and “London Assurance.”
“Roger was that rare combination of extraordinary talent and enormous kindness and gentility,” said Todd Haimes, the artistic director of the Roundabout Theatre Company, which produced a celebrated revival of “The Winslow Boy” starring Rees in 2013. “I, and everyone I know, truly loved Roger.”
Born in Aberystwyth, Wales, in 1944, he spent more than two decades with the Royal Shakespeare Company 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.
In film, Rees played the Sheriff of Rottingham in Mel Brooks’ “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 Rees co-directed.