Such An Actor Was This! Laurence Olivier Takes His Last Bow at Westminster Abbey

updated 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

There will always be an England—but, as Michael York said, speaking for the rest of the world, "There will never, never be another Laurence Olivier." Sir Laurence died last July at age 82, a loss commemorated recently in a service of thanksgiving at London's Westminster Abbey, where the ashes of the century's greatest actor will be placed beneath a bust of William Shakespeare. The ceremony featured a stellar cast of friends, including Sir John Gielgud, Sir Alec Guinness, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Michael Caine, Derek Jacobi, Maggie Smith, Sir Richard Attenborough, Jeremy Irons and Jack Lemmon.

But it was a family affair too. Olivier's widow, actress Joan Plowright, 60, was accompanied by their three children, Tamsin, 26, Richard, 27, and Julie Kate, 23. The actor's first wife, Jill Esmond, attended with their 53-year-old son, Tarquin. From the royal family came theatrical production assistant Prince Edward.

Some 10,000 Olivier fans had applied for tickets to the service, but only 2,000 were allowed inside. Hundreds stood outside the Abbey braving the cold autumn air. The theatricality of the event was perfectly executed. At noon precisely, following a trumpet fanfare, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. led a procession of colleagues down the Abbey's center aisle, all brandishing items of Olivier memorabilia. Peter O'Toole carried Olivier's script for Hamlet, while Caine held his 1979 Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Paul Scofield carried a model of London's Royal National Theatre and Smith one of the Festival Theatre in Chichester, both of which were founded by Olivier.

The procession was followed by a eulogy delivered by the dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Michael Mayne. "For 60 years he moved, astonished and teased his public," said Mayne. "He could interpret human nature at its noblest, at its most comic and at its most pitiable."

Readings were given by Albert Finney, Sir John Mills and Ashcroft; Guinness gave the address. But even in death it was Olivier who upstaged them all. The sounds of rustling papers and clearing throats were eerily silenced during the playing of a scratchy 1944 recording of Olivier giving the rousing St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry Vas the king counsels his men of the glories of battle: "Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot. But he'll remember with advantages What feats he did that day." The world, too, shall remember the man and the actor, and the feats he accomplished in his.

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