Charleson was a noted actor on the British stage as well, with critically acclaimed leads in Guys and Dolls, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Fool for Love, and Hamlet, among many others. Over the course of his life Charleson performed numerous major Shakespearean roles, and the annual Ian Charleson Awards were established in his honour in 1991, to reward the best classical stage performances in Britain by actors aged under 30.
The Houghton Mifflin Dictionary of Biography describes Charleson as "a leading player of charm and power" and "one of the finest British actors of his generation." Alan Bates wrote that Charleson was "definitely among the top ten actors of his age group." Ian McKellen said Charleson was "the most unmannered and unactorish of actors: always truthful, always honest."
Charleson, who was gay, was diagnosed with HIV in 1986, and died of AIDS-related causes in January 1990 at the age of 40. He died eight weeks after performing the title role in a run of Hamlet, in Richard Eyre's production at the Olivier Theatre. Fellow actor and friend Sir Ian McKellen said that Charleson played Hamlet so well it was as if he had rehearsed the role all his life.
Charleson requested that it be announced after his death that he had died of AIDS, in order to publicize the condition. This unusual decision by a major internationally known actor — the first show-business death in the United Kingdom openly attributed to complications from AIDS — helped promote awareness of HIV and AIDS and acceptance of AIDS patients.
Charleson is buried in Portobello Cemetery, Edinburgh.
For his performance in Chariots of Fire, Charleson won a Variety Club Showbiz Award for Most Promising Artiste in February 1982.
Charleson was nominated for the Olivier Award for Actor of the Year in a New Play, for his starring role as Eddie in Fool for Love in 1984.
In The Sunday Times, John Peter named Charleson the Best Male Actor of 1989 for his Hamlet, along with Ian McKellen for his Iago in Othello.
In Charleson's honour, the annual Ian Charleson Awards were established in 1991, to reward the best classical stage performances in Britain by actors aged under 30.
The Royal Free Hospital's Ian Charleson Day Centre for people with HIV, in London, is named in his memory.
On 8 April 1990, three months after his Edinburgh funeral, a very emotional public memorial service was held for Charleson in London. A recording of his haunting singing of "Come Unto These Yellow Sands" from The Tempest was played.
In 1990, following his death, 20 of Charleson's friends, colleagues, and family members, including Ian McKellen, Alan Bates, Hugh Hudson, Richard Eyre, Sean Mathias, Hilton McRae, and David Rintoul, contributed to a book of reminiscences about him, called For Ian Charleson: A Tribute, published in October 1990. All royalties from the sale of the book went to the Ian Charleson Trust, a charitable foundation which operated from 1990 to 2007.
Two emotional reunion performances of Guys and Dolls, with almost all of the original 1982 cast and musicians, were given at the National Theatre in November 1990 as a tribute to Charleson. The tickets sold out immediately, and the dress rehearsal was also packed. The proceeds from the performances were donated to the new HIV clinic at the Royal Free Hospital, and to scholarships in Charleson's name at LAMDA.
Hugh Hudson, who had directed Charleson in Chariots of Fire, dedicated his 1999 film My Life So Far "In loving memory of Ian Charleson". The 2005 videos "Wings on Their Heels: The Making of Chariots of Fire" and "Chariots of Fire: A Reunion" are both also dedicated to his memory.
For Ian Charleson: A Tribute by Ian McKellen, Alan Bates, Hugh Hudson, et al.
Hardcover: 130 pages
Publisher: Constable (October 29, 1990)
Amazon: For Ian Charleson: A Tribute
A tribute to actor Ian Charleson, best known for his portrayal of Eric Liddell in the film, Chariots of Fire. He died of AIDS at age forty in 1990. The book includes contributions from Ewen Maclachlan, Alan Bates, David Puttnam, Hilton McRae, Di Trevis, Hugh Hudson, Elizabeth Charleson, David Rintoul, Ruby Wax, Sharman Macdonald, Richard Warwick, Johanna Kirby, Peter Eyre, John Whitworth, Sean Mathias, Catriona Craig, Suzanne Bertish, Kenneth Charleson, Richard Eyre, and Ian McKellen.
More LGBT History at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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