When poor eyesight ended his childhood ambition to follow his group captain father into the RAF, Simon MacCorkindale briefly considered a career in the Diplomatic Service before deciding that being a theatre director was a suitable alternative – much to the consternation of his parents. His thespian inclinations were reluctantly sanctioned only after he agreed to abandon the stage if he was still struggling to find work by the age of 25.
Enrolled at London’s Studio 68 of Theatre Arts, he took acting lessons to help with the craft of directing, inadvertently changing the direction of his career. A much admired student performer, he made his professional debut in A Bequest to the Nation at the Belgrade, Coventry in 1973, and appeared in three episodes of Hawkeye, The Pathfinder on television the same year.
A West End debut, alongside Alec McCowen and Diana Rigg in a revival of Pygmalion at the Albery, followed in 1974. His breakthrough came in 1976 as Lucius, son to Brian Blessed’s Emperor Augustus in I, Claudius for the BBC. More TV followed, with roles in Sutherland’s Law, Within These Walls, Galsworthy’s The Skin Game, Quatermass (with Sir John Mills) and Jesus of Nazareth before international fame arrived in 1978, courtesy of the star-studded film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile.
Its success and that of his next film, The Riddle of the Sands, secured him passage to the United States. Despite his refusal to Americanise his accent, his heartthrob looks and aristocratic demeanour kept him in constant work. Although his film career stalled with the final instalment of the Jaws franchise (shot in 3D), his profile on television grew apace, with appearances in The Dukes of Hazzard, Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart and Dynasty. In 1983 he secured the lead in the short-lived fantasy Manimal – playing a crime-solving Professor with the ability to transform himself into animals and birds. From 1984 to ’86 he appeared in 59 episodes of Falcon Crest, the glossy soap opera about a dysfunctional family of California wine makers, with Hollywood star Jane Wyman as the conniving matriarch at its centre. It was enough to add his name to the list of possible successors to Roger Moore’s James Bond.
He returned to the UK in 1986 to create Amy International Artists and Apollo Films International. He acted in, wrote, directed and produced projects for both companies and others, including the 1989 film Djavolji raj (set in Second World War Yugoslavia and starring his second wife, Susan George, and Rod Steiger, for which he also composed the music), and the TV series Queen of Swords (2000), and Adventure Inc. (2002).
In 2006 he joined the BBC’s long-running hospital drama Casualty as consultant Harry Harper, staying with the series for six years and 229 episodes. Recent stage performances included UK tours of murder mystery The Unexpected Guest in 2007, and Sleuth, with the Library Theatre, in 2008. Later that year, he took over the role of Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music at the Palladium. His final television appearance was earlier this year in an episode of New Tricks for the BBC.
Born on February 12, 1952, in Ely, Cambridgeshire, he twice married actresses – Fiona Fullerton from 1976 to ’81, and Susan George in 1984, with whom he managed a 45-acre stud on Exmoor, breeding thoroughbred Arabian horses.
Diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2006, he learned that the disease had spread to his lungs in 2007. He died on October 14, 2010, aged 58, while receiving treatment in a London clinic.
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