David Warner was a prolific actor, equally at ease on stage, television or on the silver screen, a star whose wide repertoire ranged from Shakespeare to Doctor Who and to films such as Tron and The Omen.
Warner, who has died aged 80, had appeared in more than 200 plays, films and television dramas during a successful career spanning six decades.
Born in Manchester in 1941, Warner was the son of Ada Doreen Hattersley and Herbert Simon Warner, the owner of a nursing home. He had what he described as a “messy childhood”, during which his parents split up, and did not enjoy school, saying later that he “failed his exams” at all eight schools he attended.
Despite a lack of interest in academic subjects, Warner found a passion for drama, attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (Rada), where he studied alongside a young John Hurt and graduated in 1961. He went on to join the Royal Shakespeare Company, making his professional stage debut at the Royal Court Theatre the following year, playing Snout in the Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The current artistic director of the RSC, Gregory Doran, described Warner as “a generous spirit, a kind man and a huge talent” and said “David’s most iconic role for the RSC was as Hamlet in 1965, directed by Peter Hall, with Glenda Jackson as Ophelia”.
After a number of minor parts on screen, his breakthrough came in Morgan – A Suitable Case for Treatment, the 1966 comedy directed by Karel Reisz. Taking the title part of Morgan Delt, Warner plays a failed artist, alongside his wife, Leonie. Vanessa Redgrave received an Oscar nomination and a Palme d’Or for that role, while Warner was recognised with a Bafta nomination.
The film, which has since become something of a cult classic, was well received by audiences and critics alike. Brendan Gill in the New Yorker wrote admiringly: “I congratulate David Warner on having worked what amounts to a miracle. Vanessa Redgrave takes her place in my pantheon of adored actresses. But my greatest praise must go to Karel Reisz for the force and courage of his direction.”
He took a significant part in The Omen (1976), the supernatural horror film written by David Seltzer and directed by Richard Donner. Playing alongside Gregory Peck, Warner is Keith Jennings, a photographer and researcher who notices shadows in photographs of victims taken prior to their deaths. His character dies in a now famous scene where a sheet of glass slides off a lorry and beheads him.
Interviewed by Mark Gatiss for the BBC in 2010 and asked about the atmosphere on the set of The Omen, Warner replied: “There was no tongue in cheek, there was no sending up, it was played absolutely for real. Peck, before one scene, just said: ‘If we can convince them with this, we all deserve Oscars.’” Elsewhere, he said of the movie: “What was so good about that picture was that there was no blood in it, really. It’s not a gorefest. Strange things happen, but it’s got the mood and the music and everything.”
In his later life, he lived at Denville Hall, a care home for retired thespians in Northwood, Hillingdon.
The actor and writer Reece Shearsmith, who appeared with Warner in the comedy horror The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse (2005), described him as “immaculate and singular in every part he played”, adding that Werner was “always patient with me when I discussed his head coming off in The Omen”.
Warner’s family said in tribute: “He will be missed hugely by us, his family and friends, and remembered as a kind-hearted, generous and compassionate man, partner and father whose legacy of extraordinary work has touched the lives of so many over the years.”
He was married twice, first to Harriet Lindgren. He is survived by his son Luke and daughter Melissa from his second marriage, to Sheilah Kent, and by his partner, Lisa Bowerman.
David Warner, actor, born 29 July 1941, died 24 July 2022