Veteran British Actor Alan Bates Dies

updated 12/29/2003 at 12:00 AM EST

originally published 12/29/2003 5:42PM

Oscar-nominated British actor Alan Bates, 69, who rose to fame on the stage in the '50s and on the screen in the '60s, died in a London hospital Saturday after "a long battle" with pancreatic cancer, his agent Rosalind Chatto, tells Reuters.

The versatile and good-looking Bates shot to fame in 1956 in playwright John Osborne's groundbreaking British play "Look Back in Anger," which reflected the social and class upheavals of 1950s England. He also took on classical stage roles, such as the leads in "Hamlet," "Richard III" and "Antony and Cleopatra."

Americans got their first look at him in the 1964 movie "Zorba the Greek," as the stuffy young man who learns to loosen up thanks to the high-living Zorba (Anthony Quinn). He then played a swinging Londoner in 1966's "Georgy Girl" and starred opposite Julie Christie in the 1967 period costume drama "Far from the Madding Crowd," based on the Thomas Hardy novel.

He also opened a lot of moviegoers' eyes when he and Oliver Reed, both totally nude, wrestled in the 1969 film "Women in Love," based on the D.H. Lawrence novel and starring Glenda Jackson. His leading role in the 1968 "The Fixer," based on the novel by Bernard Malamud, about a Jewish handyman unjustly jailed in Czarist Russia, earned him an Oscar nomination.

Speaking of Bates on Britain's Sky Television this weekend, Glenda Jackson, 67, said: "As he matured as an individual, his acting became broader and deeper, and he always brought the unexpected to everything he did. ... The longer he lived, the better an actor he became."

In the late '70s, Bates played the sex-object artist opposite Jill Clayburgh in 1978's "An Unmarried Woman" and the rock-star manager who tried to control the out-of-control Bette Midler character in 1979's "The Rose." More recently, in 2001, he played the butler in director Robert Altman's period drama "Gosford Park."

Knighted last year after a career that spanned six decades, Sir Alan had suffered personal tragedies in recent years. His son, Tristan, 19, died of an asthma attack in 1990, and his wife, actress Victoria Ward, died in 1992.

Bates is survivied by two brothers, his son Benedick, and a granddaughter, his agent said, according to reports.

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