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Richard Briers, star of The Good Life, dead at 79

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Richard Briers, star of The Good Life, dead at 79

Richard Briers, much-loved star of The Good Life, has died at the age of 79, shortly after revealing his emphysema.

  • Richard Briers of The Good Life fame (© Richard Briers of The Good Life fame. Image. Rex)

Richard Briers of The Good Life fame. Image. Rex

Richard Briers, star of The Good Life, has died at the age of 79. He recently revealed his struggle with lung disease after being diagnosed five years ago.
The much-loved actor was the lynchpin of three of the most notable sitcoms ever made in Britain – Marriage Lines, The Good Life (shown in the United States as Good Neighbours) and Ever Decreasing Circles.
The 79-year-old, who also starred in Monarch Of The Glen, said years of smoking were to blame for his emphysema.
In a joint interview with friend and actress Prunella Scales back in January 2013, he told the Daily Mail: “It’s totally my fault. So, I get very breathless, which is a pain in the backside. Trying to get upstairs… oh God, it’s ridiculous. Of course, when you’re bloody nearly 80 it’s depressing, because you’ve had it anyway.”
Richard Briers was born on 14 January, 1934 in Raynes Park, south west London. His second cousin was legendary actor Terry-Thomas, best known for playing a cad.
Richard Briers trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he won the silver medal and a scholarship to Liverpool Playhouse in 1956. Two years later he made his first West End appearance in Gilt And Gingerbread.
He barely stopped working from that day onwards.

Richard Briers hits the silver screen

The big screen career began with the British features Bottoms Up (1960), Murder She Said (1961), The Girl On The Boat and A Matter of Who (both 1962) and the multi-national The VIPs (1963), followed by Raquel Welch’s spy spoof Fathom (1967).
Over the next 36 years, he alternated his TV and film work with such plays as Present Laughter (1965), The Real Inspector Hound (1968), Butley (1972), Run For Your Wife (1983), Twelfth Night (1987-88) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (as Bottom, 1990).
Throughout these years, he was regularly and prominently on TV including such shows as Brothers In Law (1962), Bird On A Wing (1971), and starring with Michael Gambon in the series The Other One (1977).
He also provided the voice for the character of Fiver in the animated feature Watership Down (1978).

Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal in The Good Life (© Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal in The Good Life.)

Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal in The Good Life.

But it was BBC sitcom The Good Life, alongside Felicity Kendal as his screen wife, that made him a household name. The series ran from 1975-1978, but it has barely been off the air since it ended.
The comedy series that put organic foods, self-sufficiency and green thinking on the map was about Tom Good (Briers) escaping the rat race to become self-sufficient alongside his wife.
But their choice of lifestyle was viewed as odd by neighbours, in particular Margo Leadbetter (Penelope Keith) and her henpecked husband Jerry (Paul Eddington).

Shakespeare with Kenneth Branagh

After a long career in popular television, Briers joined Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company in 1987, and his already very successful professional life took a new turn as he moved on to major classical roles.
He said at the time: “Ken offered me Malvolio in his production of Twelfth Night at the very time I had decided to expand my career when I realised I had gone as far as I could doing sitcoms. As soon as I worked with him, I thought he was truly exceptional.”
After his Malvolio, Briers took on King Lear at Branagh’s insistence, followed by the title role in Uncle Vanya and Menenius in Coriolanus.
However, Briers still considered himself a sitcom clown, and on film Branagh cast him as Bardolph in Henry V (1989), as Stephen Fry’s father in the comedy Peter’s Friends (1992), Don Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing (1993), the blind grandfather in the controversial Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) and as a cranky old trouper in A Midwinter’s Tale (1996), the same year in which he filmed the role of Polonius in Hamlet.
He also co-starred with Sir John Gielgud in Branagh’s Academy Award-nominated short film Swan Song.
It was his film-making with Branagh’s company which made his name in the United States.
Other film credits included Michael Winner’s A Chorus Of Disapproval (1989) and the big-screen version of the hit TV series Minder.
He also appeared in the harrowing period drama Skallagrigg (1994) and the PG Wodehouse comedy Heavy Weather (1996), with Peter O’Toole and Judy Parfitt.
Richard Briers also often appeared in the works of the prolific playwright Alan Ayckbourn, playing leading roles in Relatively Speaking, Absurd Person Singular and Absent Friends on the stage and The Norman Conquests and Just Between Ourselves on television.

The later years

The actor’s health deteriorated after being diagnosed with emphysema five years ago. He said he stopped smoking 10 years ago, but by then it was too late. He added: “If you do it in your 30s, you’re OK, but after 30 it gets you.”
He added: “I was diagnosed five years ago and didn’t think it would go quite as badly as it has. It’s a bugger, but there it is. I used to love smoking.”
Richard Briers was one of the most popular television sitcom actors of his generation. But he was no less acclaimed as a distinguished Shakespearean actor, a major development in his career, at a point when he said “I realised I had gone as far as I could doing sitcoms”.
He was awarded the OBE in 1989 for services to the arts. Briers married the actress Anne Davies in 1956. They had two daughters.
He will be best remembered as a bumbling, fussy and occasionally downtrodden figure in some of the most successful TV comedies of his era.

Richard David Briers, CBE. 14 January 1934 – 17 February 2013

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