Donal Donnelly, who has died aged 78, was one of the leading Irish actors of his generation, whose career spanned more than half a century.
His first professional role was in Doctor Faustus at Dublin’s Gate Theatre back in 1952, his last in Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell on Broadway in 2006. In between, he sparkled on stages in Dublin, London and on the Great White Way, where he was nominated for a Tony Award in 1964 for his performance as Gar Private in Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come.
Almost 30 years later, in 1992, he was back on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning production of another Friel play, Dancing at Lughnasa.
Born in Bradford on July 6, 1931, but brought up and educated in Dublin, Donnelly was one of a group of bright young Irish actors, such as Norman Rodway, Godfrey Quigley and Pauline Delaney, who emerged in the late fifties. He moved from Dublin to London in 1957, joining Jack McGowran in O’Casey’s Shadow of a Gunman at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith.
Work offers flowed in as producers recognised his talent and significant stage roles included A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Sleuth – which brought him to Broadway again – and Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance, in which he said he had enjoyed working with the “incredibly creative” director Lindsay Anderson.
Possibly inspired by Anderson, he later tried his hand at directing, first in New York with the Friel play The Mundy Scheme and, later, in Dublin, with Alan Ayckbourn’s How the Other Half Loves in 1972. In the seventies, he also put together a one-man touring show, My Astonishing Self, based on the writings of Shaw.
Donnelly also leaves behind an impressive archive of film work. Most notable were his performances as Freddy Malins in John Huston’s much-praised film version of James Joyce’s The Dead, and as Archbishop Gilday in The Godfather: Part III, alongside Al Pacino. His US TV credits include Spenser for Hire and Law & Order.
He died in Chicago on January 4, where he had been living for the past two years. A daughter Maryanne predeceased him and he is survived by his wife Patsy and sons Damian and Jonathan.
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