Ben Cross, the English actor best known for his portrayal of the British Olympic athlete Harold Abrahams in the 1981 Best Picture Oscar winner Chariots of Fire and as Sarek in the 2009 reboot Star Trek, died today in Vienna after a short illness. He was 72.
The veteran stage and screen star’s family confirmed the news to Deadline.
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Cross was born Harry Bernard Cross in London in 1947 to a working-class family. He began acting at a young age, participating in grammar school plays, but left school to work as a window cleaner, waiter, joiner and carpenter before being accepted into London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts at age 22. He excelled at RADA and won the acting school’s prestigious Vanbrugh Prize for performance of the year. He would go on to claim a string of key stage roles and made his big-screen debut on 1977 World War II epic A Bridge Too Far.
Cross’ path to international stardom began in 1978 with his performance in the play Chicago, in which he played Billy Flynn, the slick lawyer of murderess Roxie Hart. His performance prompted his casting in the Brit classic Chariots of Fire, alongside actors such as Ian Charleson, Ian Holm and John Gielgud.
Based on a true story, the box office smash and four-time Oscar winner charted the story of two British track athletes — one a Jew who ran to overcome prejudice and the other a devout Christian who ran for the glory of God — who competed in the 1924 Olympics. For their acclaimed performances as fierce running rivals, Cross and co-star Charleson both won Most Promising Artist of 1981 from the Variety Club Awards.
Cross followed up Chariots of Fire with projects including 10-part BBC drama The Citadel, HBO spy film Steal The Sky, NBC miniseries Twist of Fate and the same network’s Dark Shadows revival. Among notable stage roles that decade were in John Guare’s play Lydie Breeze and opposite Charlton Heston in the revival of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.
In 1995, Cross starred as the villain Prince Malagant opposite Richard Gere, Sean Connery and Julia Ormond in Columbia Pictures action-adventure pic First Knight, and was cast as Sarek in 2009’s Star Trek, directed and produced by JJ Abrams.
Among recent performances were the CW series Pandora and 2018 action movie The Hurricane Heist and the actor wrapped his last role as Cardinal Mathews in Lionsgate horror The Devil’s Light only 10 days ago.
In post-production is Netflix romance Last Letter from Your Lover, in which Cross starred with Shailene Woodley, Felicity Jones, Joe Alwyn and Callum Turner. The actor also had been cast in development movies including Resilient 3D and Liberty.
Cross, who was married three times and was also a talented and enthusiastic singer, is survived by his wife Deyana Boneva Cross, and his two children, Theo and Lauren, and grandchildren Violet, Zinnia, and Alexander.
His family told us, “Today the world has lost a talent, but our family has lost a beloved husband, dad, and grandpa. He was a born showman and entertainer, a walking encyclopedia of music who could sing anything. He was a man who taught us to embrace our feelings, whatever they may be. We are grateful for the time we had with him. His spirit lives on in our hearts through his words, his music, and the love that we still feel. If you would like to remember him, please make a donation to Save the Children. As he would say, support musicians, love each other, do only good.”
Here is a sampling of tributes to the actor on social media:
RIP actor Ben Cross. Johnny Romita and I got to know him quite well at a film event in Monaco a couple of years back, a highlight being when he got up and walked around a packed restaurant singing a completely ad-libbed song about Johnny to 200 other customers :) https://t.co/IMtOcVarAy
— Mark Millar (@mrmarkmillar) August 19, 2020
I am filled with sadness to learn of the passing of Ben Cross. It was an absolute dream to play opposite him in Dark Shadows. He was elegant, funny, enormously generous to me as a young actress and he will always have a special place in my heart.
— Joanna Going (@joannagoing1) August 19, 2020
The magnificent Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams in ‘Chariots of Fire’ captured the burden of being an outsider, the hostility toward his Jewish antecedents & how even success is isolating: “With 10 lonely seconds to justify my existence.” You won gold – now rest from your running. pic.twitter.com/Wjene9yKxQ
— Martin Bashir (@MartinBashir) August 18, 2020
So long Ben Cross. Glad to have met you amigo. RIP x pic.twitter.com/7eTeDgav7s
— Antony Starr (@antonystarr) August 19, 2020
— Mark A. Altman (@markaaltman) August 18, 2020
RIP #bencross. We worked together on Steal the Sky For HBO IN 1988. We worked in Jerusalem together. It was right after having my first baby dreelouisehemingway #goodpeople #beforehistime #movies #hbo @hbo https://t.co/Z259D4mzAx
— Mariel Hemingway (@MarielHemingway) August 18, 2020
godspeed my scandalous friendhttps://t.co/dQ2oTIxgL2
— angus macfadyen (@macfadyenangus) August 18, 2020
Sad to hear Ben Cross passed away today. Did a great UK tour with him back in the day, followed by a run at the Queens in the West End, in The Caine Mutiny (with @RichardLinford). Very driven actor, very highly-charged. RIP. pic.twitter.com/PPuly2qQet
— Julian Dutton 🎭📚⛵️⚓️🎟️🇬🇧 (@JulianDutton1) August 18, 2020
I'm still in shock and saddened to know that my friend of many years, Ben Cross, had passed away today. For years I was his agent, then his manager and always his friend. The world is a little less interesting today knowing that Ben is no longer here. RIP Ben pic.twitter.com/pAcvXzOej2
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@jgoldbergmgmt) August 18, 2020
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