British actor Sir Alec Guinness, who won an Oscar for “Bridge on the River Kwai” in 1957 and attained mega-fame 20 years later as the elder master of The Force in “Star Wars,” died Saturday in southern England. He was 86. The cause of death was not immediately reported, but Guinness had been in poor health for several years. He became ill at his home in Hampshire on Thursday and was taken to a hospital, where he died, Reuters reported.
Born in 1914, Guinness began his career as a stage actor in the early 1930’s. After serving in the Royal Navy in World War II, he got his first film role in the screen version of “Great Expectations” (1946). During the late 1940s and early 1950s, he appeared in a string of comedies, such as “The Lavender Hill Mob” (1951).
But he was immortalized in “Star Wars,” the film that elevated him from distinguished thespian to world-class pop culture icon. He lent an air of dignity and humanity to the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi that helped elevate the film from mere pulp sci-fi to cinema classic.
Even so, Guinness apparently hated “Star Wars.” According to Reuters, Guinness once told a British magazine that he persuaded director George Lucas to have Darth Vader kill Obi Wan Kenobi, so that he would have to say “those bloody awful lines.” The actor said, “`I shrivel up every time someone mentions Star Wars to me.”