Sir Alec Guinness (1914 – 2000)

With a distinguished career that spanned six decades, the late English actor Sir Alec Guinness is today best remembered internationally for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Born in 1914 into rather unusual circumstances for the time, the identity of the young Alec’s father was forever a mystery, although the inclusion of the name ‘Guinness’ on his birth certificate by his mother, Agnes de Cuffe, led many to speculate that his father was a member of the Irish brewing dynasty of the same name.

At 22 Guinness made his acting debut in a John Gielgud production of Hamlet in 1936, where he worked alongside other UK screen legends such as Anthony Quayle, Peggy Ashcroft and even Stan Laurel. The Shakespearian roles continued until the Second World War interrupted his career and he found himself commanding landing craft on active service in the Mediterranean.

After the war Guinness continued with the stage until a disastrous adaptation of Hamlet seems to have driven him away from the theatre and towards cinema with the roles that would immortalise him in the pantheons of showbiz.

The Ealing Comedies of the 1950s – quirky British comedy films produced at Ealing Studios, West London – endeared Guinness to a wider audience with his roles in The Ladykillers, The Man in the White Suit, The Lavender Hill Mob, and Kind Hearts and Coronets, in which he demonstrated his versatility by playing an incredible eight roles.

However, it was for his work with British director David Lean that Guinness won real acclaim, including an Oscar for his part as the obsessive Colonel Nicholson in the 1957 classic, The Bridge on the River Kwai. Guinness also starred in Lean’s other epics: Dr Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia and A Passage to India.

During the 60s and 70s Guinness flitted between stage and screen, going from the sublime to the ridiculous by winning a Tony Award for his portrayal of poet Dylan Thomas, before receiving a panning from critics for his interpretation of Hamlet in 1966.

In 1977 Guinness was recruited by a young George Lucas to play the part of Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan Kenobi, a role that widened the actor’s appeal to a new generation. Guinness saw the potential in the film and signed up for 2% of profits rather than a fee. This made the unassuming actor a very rich man, but he was displeased with the following the movies received and his subsequent identification with the role.

Although married for most of his life, Guinness was bisexual and is thought to have been involved with Sir John Gielgud before being arrested for soliciting homosexual sex in a public toilet in 1946. Guinness, not so well known at the time, gave the police and court the false name of Herbert Pocket – a Dickens character he was preparing to play.

Sir Alec Guinness is a Great Briton for his humble beginning, his classic film roles, and for having a dark side that Force-d him to do things.