The Man Who Sued God star passed away in Brisbane two days after his 61st birthday, after a battle with bowel cancer, and his longtime friend, Oscar-wining actor Geoffrey Rush, was among those by his side.
Rush began his career in the 1970s working alongside Brown at the Queensland Theatre Company and they remained close friends up until his death, and The King’s Speech star has released an emotional statement in his memory.
He says, “We have lost a great and truly original man of the theatre and I have farewelled a brother. Our professional lives and our deep friendship have been intertwined for 43 years… Bille confronted the challenge of his illness with an astonishing bravery and sense of privacy, sharing his difficult uncertain odyssey with only a handful of intimate friends and family. He was never alone in this final journey.”
Queensland Theatre Company executive director Sue Donnelly reveals the actor kept his health battle a secret, even when he returned to the stage in a production of The Histrionic last year (12): “He just valiantly kept on going… He was on stage the whole time. It was an amazing performance and apparently at that point he may well have been suffering, knowing that he had bowel cancer… He was admitted to hospital and his family were all around him at the time that he died and I understand Geoffrey Rush was also around by his side.”
McKellen appeared opposite Brown when he made his Broadway debut in a 1986 production of Wild Honey and worked with him many times throughout his career. He also remembered his friend in a moving statement: “Bille Brown was a man and an actor of the world… He has just died in Brisbane, two days after a birthday party, for which he ordered crab, lobster and champagne… I just hope, as his spirit leaves us, that he realised how respected he was by the rest of us, his friends, colleagues and audiences: how we too honoured him and how much we loved him.”
Actress Blanchett and her playwright/director husband Andrew Upton also added their own tribute to Brown: “Audiences have lost one of this country’s most unique, exuberant and accurate theatrical creatures. The theatre community has lost a mentor, a maniac and an inspiration; a glorious human being who will be sorely missed and always remembered.”
Brown began his career alongside Rush at the Queensland Theatre Company in the 1970s before moving to the U.K. to join the revered Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). His theatre career included numerous West End performances, and he also appeared on Broadway and in many stage shows in his native Australia, including a production of the Monty Python musical Spamalot.
His movie career took off after Monty Python funnyman John Cleese spotted him on stage and cast him in 1997’s Fierce Creatures, the sequel to A Fish Called Wanda.
Brown’s other film credits include The Man Who Sued God and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. His TV appearances included a stint in British drama Heartbeat.
In 2011 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia.