: [on Richard Burton:] I have never known such a gifted actor who was so lacking in confidence.
Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor and theatre director whose career spanned eight decades. With Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier, he was one of the trinity of actors who dominated the British stage for much of the 20th century.
A member of the Terry family theatrical dynasty, he gained his first paid acting work as a junior member of his cousin Phyllis Neilson-Terry's company in 1922. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art he worked in repertory theatre and in the West End before establishing himself at the Old Vic as an exponent of Shakespeare in 1929-31.
During the 1930s Gielgud was a stage star in the West End and on Broadway, appearing in new works and classics. He began a parallel career as a director, and set up his own company at the Queen's Theatre, London. He was regarded by many as the finest Hamlet of his era, and was also known for high comedy roles such as John Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest.
During the first half of his career, Gielgud did not take the cinema seriously. Though he made his first film in 1924, and had successes with The Good Companions and Julius Caesar, he did not begin a regular film career until his sixties.
In the 1950s Gielgud feared that his career was threatened when he was convicted and fined for a homosexual offence, but his colleagues and the public supported him loyally.
Gielgud and his longtime lover Martin Hensler lived together in his later years at their country house, South Pavilion, at Wotton Underwood, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, where he died "simply of old age" on 21 May 2000, at 96. That night, the lights at the Gielgud Theatre and 12 others in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group were dimmed for three minutes in tribute to the passing of the man acclaimed as the greatest Shakespearean actor of the century.
Although largely indifferent to awards, Gielgud had the rare distinction of winning an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony. He was famous from the start of his career for his voice and his mastery of Shakespearean verse.