A versatile character actor who moved easily between drama, comedy and musicals, Alex Giannini was admired by writers, producers and his fellow performers as a consummate craftsman and a selfless supporter of young actors.
The son of Anglo-Italian parents, he was born in Northamptonshire in 1958 and educated in England, Italy and Luxembourg, where his father worked for the European Commission. Having changed schools 13 times, he had, he recently said, “been touring all my life”.
He gained an early taste of fame as lead singer of rockabilly group Coast to Coast, with whom he appeared on Top of the Pops in the 1980s, performing the hit singles Do the Hucklebuck and Jump the Broomstick. Reading Steven Berkoff’s play East inspired him to become an actor and, after graduating from East 15 Acting School, he found steady work on stage and screen. At the National Theatre, he played Harry the Horse in Richard Eyre’s production of Guys and Dolls and created the role of Joe in Trevor Nunn’s 1998 world premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Not About Nightingales. The production subsequently enjoyed a five-month run on Broadway.
Giannini’s London theatre credits included The Graduate with Jerry Hall (Gielgud Theatre, 2000), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Christian Slater (Garrick Theatre, 2004), Journey’s End (New Ambassadors Theatre, 2005), Big Mac in Steven Berkoff’s revival of On the Waterfront (Haymarket Theatre, 2009) and understudying Henry Goodman – and playing two performances in the leading role of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Duchess Theatre, 2013). He created the role of Dean Martin in Rat Pack Confidential, which transferred from Nottingham Playhouse to the Whitehall Theatre in 2003.
Chichester Festival Theatre appearances included Schwartz (The Front Page, 2002) and Carnes (Oklahoma!, 2009).
In 2011, he played the Penguin and Commissioner Gordon in Batman Live, touring arenas in the UK, Europe, North and South America. Other notable roles included Herbert Nirdlinger in the world premiere of Double Indemnity at Theatr Clwyd, Mold in 1996, Buddy (Follies, Theatre Royal, Northampton, 2006), Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind opposite Peter Kay in The Producers (touring, 2007); Saul and Moses in Berkoff’s Biblical Tales (New End, Hampstead, 2010) and Eddie Carbone – his favourite role – in A View from the Bridge (Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, 2011).
Last year, he was seen in Oh! What a Lovely War at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and Porgy and Bess at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. His extensive TV credits included Civvies, Inspector Morse, ShakespeaRe-Told, Dalziel and Pascoe, The Musketeers and Borgia.
On film, he was seen in Legend, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Blackeyes and In Love and War. He also wrote and co-produced the 1992 spoof spaghetti western The Ballad of Kid Divine.
Giannini was a familiar face in Italy, where his series of television commercials for olive oil ran for five years.
Following a brief first marriage at 22, in 1998 he married Jenny Secombe, daughter of entertainer Harry Secombe and a former BBC publicity commissioner.
Alex Giannini was born Alexander von Giannini on June 6, 1958, and died suddenly of natural causes in Plymouth – where he was playing Mr Baumann in Chichester Festival Theatre’s Mack and Mabel – on October 2, aged 57. He is survived by his wife and three stepchildren.