Peter Cushing

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Peter Cushing OBE

Peter Cushing (26 May 191311 August 1994) was a British actor, best known for playing Dr Frankenstein and Professor van Helsing in Hammer films, once opposite Christopher Lee as Dracula.

Cushing was born in Kenley in Surrey on 26 May 1913. He was raised in Kenley and Dulwich, South London. He left his first job as a surveyor's assistant to take up a scholarship at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After working in repertory theatre, he left for Hollywood in 1939, but returned in 1941 after roles in several films. His first major film part was as Osric in Hamlet (1948) with Laurence Olivier.

In the 1950s he worked in television, most notably as Winston Smith in the BBC's 1954 adaptation of the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Cushing drew much praise for his performance in this production, although he always felt that his performance in the existing version of the play – it was performed twice in one week and only the second version survives in the archives – was inferior to the first.

In the mid-1960s, he played the eccentric Dr. Who in two movies (Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks — Invasion Earth 2150 AD) based on the television series Doctor Who.

He was one of many stars to guest on The Morecambe and Wise Show – the standing joke in his case being the idea that he was never paid for his appearance.

Cushing played Sherlock Holmes many times, starting with Hammer's The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), the first colour Holmes film. He followed this up with a performance in 16 episodes of the BBC series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes (1968), of which unfortunately only six episodes survive. Finally, towards the end of his life, Cushing played the detective in old age, in The Masks of Death (1984) for Channel 4.

In 1977 he appeared in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope as one of his (now) most recognised characters, Grand Moff Tarkin.

In 1989 he was made an Officer of the British Empire.

He retired to Whitstable, where he bought a seafront house in 1959 and he died from cancer in Canterbury in 1994, aged 81. He was married to the actress Helen Beck from 1943 until her death in 1971. His love for her has become one of the most warmly regarded aspects of his star persona, and he famously named a rose after her on the BBC programme Jim'll Fix It.

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