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|Also Known As:||George Richard Chamberlain||Died:|
|Born:||March 31, 1934||Cause of Death:|
|Birth Place:||Beverly Hills, California, USA||Profession:||Cast ... actor singer|
A popular and versatile actor with a 40-year career spanning film, stage, pop music and television, Richard Chamberlain overcame the "handsome face" label that dogged him during his stint on TV's "Dr. Kildare" (NBC, 1961-66) appearing in some of the most widely-seen projects in entertainment history, including the epic miniseries "Shogun," "Centennial," and most memorably, "The Thorn Birds." At the same time, he won the acceptance of the theater world with performances in acclaimed productions on both sides of the Atlantic. Additionally, he triumphed in his personal life as well by, not only launching a successful second career as an artist, but by revealing his struggles as a gay man forced to conceal his sexuality in Hollywood for the past four decades.
Born George Richard Chamberlain in Beverly Hills, CA on March 31, 1934, Chamberlain excelled at both sports and art while a student. The latter became his primary passion while attending Pomona College, and he might have signed with Paramount Pictures, had he not been required to serve in Korea for 16 months. After his return to the States, Chamberlain studied under noted acting teacher Jeff Corey and co-founded the Los Angeles theater group Company of Angels. He began landing his first screen roles in the late '50s and early '60s on TV series such as "Gunsmoke" (CBS, 1955-1975) "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (CBS/NBC, 1955-62) and in several undistinguished theatrical features.
In 1961, Chamberlain's career took off with his performance as the title role in "Dr. Kildare," a medical drama about a young intern learning the ropes at a major hospital. Chamberlain's good looks helped make him an overnight sensation and a heartthrob of the first order; his pin-up status was further solidified by a string of pop singles he recorded between 1962 and 1963. But Chamberlain sought more for his acting career than an avid fan base. He attempted to break free of the Kildare image in two theatrical features, "Twilight of Honor" and "Joy in the Morning," but neither of the sudsy films did much to lend a sense of gravitas to his image. Knowing this, Chamberlain then turned his back on television, pursuing roles in touring stage productions instead.
Eventually, Chamberlain relocated to England, where he earned considerable praise for his performance in a 1968 TV production of "A Portrait of a Lady." That project signaled a turning point in the public perception of Chamberlain - no longer was he regarded as merely a handsome American TV celebrity. He was being considered a more a serious actor, with the roles now coming his way reflecting that sea change. Chamberlain portrayed Julie Christie's rotter of a husband in "Petulia" (1968), co-starred with Katherine Hepburn in Bryan Forbes' film adaptation of "The Madwoman of Challiot," and won raves from the notoriously difficult English theater critics for his performance as Hamlet, which he later recreated for TV's "Hallmark Hall of Fame" in 1970. Chamberlain continued to broaden his horizons in the '70s by playing the classical composer Tchaikovsky in visionary director Ken Russell's "The Music Lovers" (1970); giving a remarkable, scene-stealing performance as a flamboyant Lord Byron in Robert Bolt's "Lady Caroline Lamb" (1972), and winning praise as Edward VIII, who gave up his throne for Wallis Warfield Simpson (Faye Dunaway) in "The Woman I Love" (1972) (reportedly, the Royal Family was displeased with his casting in this controversial role). Chamberlain also made inroads back to Hollywood in the early '70s in three blockbuster films, gaining a new legion of fans for his amusing performance as Aramis in Richard Lester's all-star "Three Musketeers" (1973) and "Four Musketeers" (1974), and holding his own opposite Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and a burning building in "The Towering Inferno" (1974).
American television continued to offer Chamberlain exceptional characters throughout the '70s and he gained a reputation as a versatile actor who could handle period pieces, heavy drama, and action with equal skill. He essayed the title roles in David Greene's "The Count of Monte Cristo" (NBC, 1975) and Mike Newell's "The Man in the Iron Mask" (NBC, 1977), as well as gave his favorite performance in the epic Western miniseries "Centennial" (NBC, 1978). Chamberlain also stretched considerably on two occasions during the mid-'70s -once, as an Australian lawyer beset by apocalyptic visions in Peter Weir's cult movie "The Last Wave," and as a singing and dancing prince in "The Slipper and the Rose" (1976), a musical version of "Cinderella."
The onset of the new decade saw Chamberlain ascend to his throne as "King of the Miniseries," beginning with the blockbuster TV event "Shogun" (NBC, 1980). His dual performance as Pilot-Major John Blackthorne/Anjin-san earned him a Golden Globe Award (he had been previously nominated for "Centennial") and his second of four Emmy nominations. He followed this production with the even more popular and now legendary miniseries "The Thorn Birds" (ABC, 1983), which gave his longtime female fans another reason to sigh over him. The TV film also raised the ire of the Catholic Church for its portrayal of a priest lusting after a young girl who grows into a beautiful woman. As the severely conflicted Father Ralph de Bricassart, Chamberlain's passionate lifelong romance with Rachel Ward's Meggie Cleary kept viewers glued to their screens, earning him another Golden Globe and Emmy nomination. Chamberlain and his legendary co-star, Golden Age stunner Barbara Stanwyck, received an enormous amount of media coverage for this program, gracing the covers of TV Guide and People magazine, among numerous others. Flush with his "Thorn Birds" success, three more superior TV productions soon followed in its wake - the dramatic historical piece "Cook and Peary: The Race to the Pole" (1983), which pitted Chamberlain's Frederick Cook against Rod Steiger's Richard Peary; "Wallenberg: A Hero's Story" (1985), about the WWII diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who aided in the rescue of countless Jewish citizens from the Nazi regime; and "Dream West" (1986), with Chamberlain as John Fremont. "Wallenberg" earned Chamberlain another round of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, but it also served as his last notable television production.
By the mid-80s, Chamberlain was in a curious predicament. He was a dependable ratings-earner as a leading man in American miniseries, but had not starred in a major motion picture in over a decade. And as he moved into his fifties, he was beginning to outgrow the image of the rugged leading man he had personified for much of the previous decade. He made an attempt to branch into action-adventure with the ill-fated "King Solomon's Mine" (1985) and its unwarranted sequel, "Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold" (1987) - both for schlock producers Golan-Globus - but neither earned the box office nor critical respect to afford him a jump to big screen leading man. TV continued to offer him roles - he played the title role in "Casanova" (ABC, 1987) and expertly handled the role of cold professional killer Jason Bourne in a TV version of "The Bourne Identity" (ABC, 1988), but the grand productions of the past were coming his way less and less. In their stead, Chamberlain worked in a number of two-hour made-for-TV movies. He was very effective as the father of a robbery victim in "Aftermath: A Test of Love" (CBS, 1991), but less so as the psychotic preacher made famous by Robert Mitchum in an ill-advised remake of "Night of the Hunter" (ABC, 1991). An attempt to return to a network series with "Island Son" (CBS, 1989-90), which was filmed in Chamberlain's new home of Hawaii, lasted just 13 episodes.
In 1996, Chamberlain returned to one of his most well-loved roles for "The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years" (CBS), which added more details to the already labyrinthine plot. The project was a ratings success, but did not endear itself to critics or fans of the original mini-series and novel - due mainly to the fact that Rachel Ward, who had married her "Thorn Birds" co-star Bryan Brown years before and settled in Brown's native Australia, turned down the role that had made her famous, causing producers to cast Amanda Donoh as Meggie. This recasting affected not only the film's authenticity with a new actress in the role, it also impacted the on-screen chemistry (or lack, thereof) between the two leads. Viewers could well remember the sparks set off between Chamberlain and Ward and the new coupling simply lacked anything close to that.
For much of the 1990s, Chamberlain worked on stage in various musical productions, including popular revivals of "The Sound of Music" and "My Fair Lady," as well as several moderately successful TV-movies - the best of which gave him the plum role of heiress Doris Duke's scheming butler in "Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke" (1999) co-starring Lauren Bacall - and episodic television appearances.
In 2003, he published his biography, Shattered Love, which addressed his homosexuality (long up for conjecture, following years of "eternal bachelor" descriptions) and the struggles he endured to keep it a secret for much of his adult life. The press generated by the book gave Chamberlain a boost in popularity, and he returned to television in several notable episodic appearances, most notably in full drag as Craig Ferguson's mother on "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC, 1995-2004). In 2006, he gave another juicy turn as a wealthy gay businessman who wants to change his younger lover's appearance into a replica of his own in "Nip/Tuck" (FX, 2003-10). Between his periodic TV appearances, Chamberlain shared his life and home in Hawaii with his longtime companion and business partner, producer/director Martin Rabbett, and maintained a successful second career as a watercolor artist.
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