Richard Chamberlain


Actor

About

Also Known As
George Richard Chamberlain
Birth Place
Beverly Hills, California, USA
Born
March 31, 1934

Biography

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 Bir...

Family & Companions

Martin Rabbett
Life Partner
Manager. Secretly married for 20 years.
Martin Rabbett
Life Partner
Had two; survived him.

Notes

Chamberlain has been nominated for four Emmy Awards.

He was named Favorite Male Performer by a TV Guide Poll in 1963.

Biography

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.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Nightmare Cinema (2018)
Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015)
Highfather
The Perfect Family (2011)
I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007)
Strength and Honor (2007)
Blackbeard (2006)
River Made to Drown In (1997)
All the Winters That Have Been (1997)
Dane Corvin
Bird of Prey (1995)
Ordeal in the Arctic (1993)
Captain John Couch
MGM: When the Lion Roars (1992)
Night Of The Hunter (1991)
Aftermath: A Test of Love (1991)
Ross Colburn
The Return of the Musketeers (1989)
Allan Quatermain And The Lost City Of Gold (1987)
Casanova (1987)
King Solomon's Mines (1985)
Cook and Peary: The Race to the Pole (1983)
Bells (1980)
Nat Bridger
The Swarm (1978)
The Last Wave (1977)
David Burton
The Man In The Iron Mask (1977)
King Louis Xiv; Philippe
The Slipper and the Rose (1976)
Prince Edward
The Count of Monte Cristo (1975)
Edmond Dantes
The Towering Inferno (1974)
F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Last of the Belles (1974)
The Three Musketeers (1973)
Lady Caroline Lamb (1972)
Lord Byron
The Music Lovers (1971)
[Peter] Tchaikovsky
Julius Caesar (1970)
Octavius Caesar
The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969)
Roderick
Petulia (1968)
David Danner
Joy in the Morning (1965)
Carl Brown
Twilight of Honor (1963)
David Mitchell
A Thunder of Drums (1961)
Lieutenant Porter
The Secret of the Purple Reef (1960)
Dean Christopher

Cast (Special)

The 10th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards (2004)
Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire (2004)
Narrator
ABC 50th Anniversary Celebration (2003)
The 53rd Annual Tony Awards (1999)
Presenter
Great Television Moments: What We Watched (1993)
50th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1993)
Presenter
Hawaii: Paradise in Peril (1993)
Host
Portrait of Japan (1992)
Narrator
A User's Guide to Planet Earth: The American Environment Test (1991)
CBS All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade (1989)
CBS Premiere Preview Spectacular (1989)
The 42nd Annual Tony Awards (1988)
Performer
Audubon: Greed, Guns & Wildlife (1988)
Narration
A Star-Spangled Celebration (1987)
The 41st Annual Tony Awards (1987)
Performer
The American Film Institute Salute to Billy Wilder (1986)
Performer
The All-Star Salute to Ford's Theatre (1986)
Perry Como's Christmas in the Holy Land (1980)
Hollywood Melody (1962)
Guest

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Too Rich: the Secret Life of Doris Duke (1999)
The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years (1996)
Archbishop Ralph De Bricassart
The Bourne Identity (1988)
Jason Bourne
Dream West (1986)
Wallenberg: A Hero's Story (1985)
Shogun (1980)
The Little Mermaid (1974)
Narration

Life Events

1960

Film debut in "The Secret of the Purple Reef"

1966

Co-starred with fellow TV star Mary Tyler Moore in the Broadway-bound musical "Breakfast at Tiffany's"; show played four previews in NYC before closing after being performed in Philadelphia and Boston under the title "Holly Golightly"

1968

Played against type as a sadistic husband in "Petulia", directed by Richard Lester

1969

British stage debut as "Hamlet" with Birmingham Rep

1970

Reprised his "Hamlet" in a TV adaptation, aired in the USA on NBC

1971

Played Tchaivoksky in Ken Russell's "The Music Lovers"

1974

Had featured role of Aramis in Richard Lester's "The Three Musketeers"

1976

Returned to Broadway in a revival of Tennessee Williams' "The Night of the Iguana"

1977

Starred in Peter Weir's "The Last Wave"

1977

Played Prince Charming in the British-made film "The Slipper and the Rose"

1978

Co-starred in the NBC miniseries "Centennial"

1978

Stage directing debut, "The Shadow Box" at Williamstown Theatre Festival

1980

Played an American sailor stranded in feudal Japan in the acclaimed NBC miniseries "Shogun"

1983

Portrayed Father Ralph DeBricassart in the ABC miniseries "The Thorn Birds"

1985

Cast as Raoul Wallenberg in "Wallenberg: A Hero's Story" (NBC)

1985

Played opposite Sharon Stone in the remake of "King Solomon's Mines"

1987

Appeared opposite Judith Ivey, Blythe Danner and Geraldine Page in the Broadway revival of "Blithe Spirit"

1989

Reprised Aramis in "The Return of the Musketeers"; last feature for eight years

1991

Appeared in the role created by Robert Mitchum in the small screen remake of "The Night of the Hunter" (ABC)

1995

Returned to the big screen in "Bird of Prey"

1996

Reprised role of Ralph DeBricassart in the CBS miniseries "The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years"

1997

Portrayed a man coping with AIDS in the festival-screened drama "River Made to Drown In"

1999

Cast as major-domo Bernard Lafferty in the CBS biopic "Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke", starring Lauren Bacall

1999

Joined cast of the Broadway revival of "The Sound of Music" as Captain von Trapp; later headlined the show's national tour

2000

Received star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (February 29)

2002

Appeared in drag as Nigel Wick's (played by Craig Ferguson) (British) mother on "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC)

2005

Guest-starred on "Will & Grace" (NBC) as Clyde, an elderly man who Will brings to game night

2006

Guest starred as a gay millionaire in the FX series "Nip/Tuck"

2007

Cast in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" with Adam Sandler and Kevin James

Videos

Movie Clip

Petulia (1968) - Open, Road Block Opening with credits and it appears neither director Richard Lester nor later-legendary editor Antony Gibbs was focused on getting much performance from Janis Joplin and her band, more about George C. Scott, title character Julie Christie, and her spouse Richard Chamberlain, at a San Francisco benefit, in Petulia, 1968.
Petulia (1968) - That's Kind Of Sickening Still in the same outfit from their absurd non-sexual encounter the night before, married title-character Julie Christie shows up with the tuba they’d only talked about, at the mod San Francisco apartment of divorcing doctor Archie (George C. Scott), who ends up calling pal Arthur Hill, in director Richard Lester’s stubbornly unorthodox Petulia, 1968.
Petulia (1968) - That's Sex For You Soon to be divorced San Francisco doctor Archie (George C. Scott) returns home to find Julie Christie (title character) beaten to near-death, which will be explained later by director Richard Lester, who now uses Grateful Dead members (Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir) as gawkers, in Petulia, 1968.
Twilight Of Honor (1963) - I Hope He Croaks Just appointed to defend accused killer Ben Brown (Nick Adams), lawyer David (Richard Chamberlain) is introduced by mistake by the jailer to Mrs. Brown (Joey Heatherton, age 19, in her first movie role), who displays little loyalty in the first instance of director Boris Sagal’s flashback technique, in MGM’s Twilight Of Honor, 1963.
Twilight Of Honor (1963) - I Get Somebody Plastered Maybe not too convincing, the MGM lot as a small New Mexico city, where widowed lawyer David (Richard Chamberlain) has been appointed to defend a drifter accused of killing a cop, visiting his mentor (Claude Rains as Harper) and his daughter (Joan Blackman), in Twilight Of Honor, 1963, co-starring Academy Award nominated Nick Adams.
Twilight Of Honor (1963) - What Sort Of Dance Was It? In court now, Nick Adams (as Ben Brown) on trial for the murder of a popular local cop, who had befriended him and his young wife (Joey Heatherton), their encounter recalled in testimony by Arch Johnson as barkeeper MacWade, James Gregory the prosecutor, top-billed Richard Chamberlain for the defense, in MGM’s Twilight Of Honor, 1963.
Last Wave, The (1977) - Billy Died Aboriginal legal-aid defendants (Walter Amagula, Roy Bara, Cedric Lalara, Morris Lalara) arrive to meet Sydney corporate lawyer Burton (Richard Chamberlain), who's taking their case, in Peter Weir's The Last Wave, 1977.
Madwoman Of Chaillot, The (1969) - Scratch On The Negative Waitress Irma (Nanette Newman), with Katherine Hepburn (title character), is alarmed for innocent but unconscious bridge-jumper Roderick (Richard Chamberlain), grilled by a Paris cop (Fernand Gravey), a sub-plot in The Madwoman Of Chaillot, 1969, from the Jean Giraudoux play.
Madwoman Of Chaillot, The (1969) - What Are You Hiding From Me? Previously seen but now speaking for the first time, the Ragpicker (Danny Kaye) holds forth for the countess (Katharine Hepburn, title character) about what’s becoming of the world and her city, Nannette Newman as Irma, Richard Chamberlain Roderick, camera by Claude Renoir, nephew and colleague of Jean, in The Madwoman Of Chaillot, 1969.
Slipper And The Rose, The (1976) - Secret Kingdom The prince (Richard Chamberlain) and Cinderella (Gemma Craven) have just met at the ball, thus their first song, from screenwriters and composers Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, Bryan Forbes directing, in The Slipper And The Rose, 1976.
Slipper And The Rose, The (1976) - Why Can't I Be Two People? From Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman of Mary Poppins fame, the first song in their 1976 original version of Cinderella, Richard Chamberlain as the prince attended by friend Christopher Gable and Kenneth More as the Lord High Chamberlain, in The Slipper And The Rose, 1976.
Four Musketeers, The (1975) - To Your Knees, Little Man! King Louis (Jean-Pierre Cassel) counseled by Richelieu (Charlton Heston) who sends spy Rochefort (Christopher Lee) to kidnap Constance (Raquel Welch) while about domestic business with D’Artagnan (Michael York), Milady (Faye Dunaway) conspiring, in the sequel, The Four Musketeers, 1975.

Trailer

Promo

Family

Charles Chamberlain
Father
Has four younger half-sisters.
Charles Chamberlain
Father
Salesman.
Elsa Chamberlain
Mother
Survived him.

Companions

Martin Rabbett
Life Partner
Manager. Secretly married for 20 years.
Martin Rabbett
Life Partner
Had two; survived him.

Bibliography

Notes

Chamberlain has been nominated for four Emmy Awards.

He was named Favorite Male Performer by a TV Guide Poll in 1963.

Won three Photoplay Gold Medals and Hollywood Women's Press Club Award in the 1960s for "Dr. Kildare".

He was named Best Actor for "Shogun" by TV Times of London in 1980.

Founding member of the Company of Angels in Los Angeles theather company.

He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Pomona College.