One of the most gifted actors of his era, Sher – who has died aged 72 – combined psychology and a keen sense of the visual in soul-baring performances

Antony Sher, who has died at the age of 72, was a man of staggering versatility. As well as being a brilliant actor, he was an accomplished artist and writer. But, far from being separate, his three careers all fed into each other: you only to have to look at his sketches of Richard III in his book Year of the King, to see how his draughtsman’s eye enriched his performance. Gifted in numerous ways, Sher also saw his acting career as one that evolved from impersonation to embodiment of a character.

Sher once told me that, when growing up as a boy in South Africa, his idols were Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers: what he envied, and initially sought to emulate, was their capacity for physical transformation. He also said that, when he left Cape Town at the age of 19 to make a career in the UK as an actor, he was aware, as a gay, Jewish South African, of being a triple outsider. He was even unsure whether he was cut out to be an actor; in his autobiography, Beside Myself, he describes himself arriving in London as a “short, slight, shy creature in black specs” understandably rejected by Rada, who strongly urged him to seek a different career.

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