“I suppose I wish I could organize myself more, but I’m sort of mad, extravagant.”
TRQ: Richard Warwick, Born April 29, 1945
British actor Richard Carey Winter, known by his stage name “Warwick,” was born in Kent. After attending the Dean Close School in Cheltenham, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Afterwards, he joined the National Theatre and performed as Gregory in the Academy award-winning film version of Romeo and Juliet (1968), directed by Franco Zeffirelli.
Warwick also appeared in If… (1968), produced and directed by Lindsay Anderson. The film starred Malcolm McDowell in his first ever screen role, and is an X-rated countercultural satire of privileged English education. If… was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1969.
After working with Warwick, whose character has sex with another male student character, Anderson said, ‘I never met a young actor like Richard! Without a touch of vanity, completely natural yet always concentrated, he illumines every frame of the film in which he appears.’
Regarded as both talented and boyishly good looking, Warwick appeared in a number of plays on British television. In Noël Coward’s The Vortex (1969), a tale of drug abuse and repressed homosexuality in London of the 1920’s, Warwick played the cocaine-addicted composer Nicky Lancaster.
Coward at the time commented, “There has never been a more superb Nicky – except yours truly of course.”
Tensions around his character’s conflict with homosexuality paralleled Warwick’s own life. As sex between men only recently been decriminalized in Britain, and his agent and directors worried that his homosexuality would jeopardize his appeal to female fans, he remained quiet about his private life.
Around this time, when he was 22 years old, Warwick began a relationship with actor and director Keith Baxter that lasted for many years.
Through the early 1970’s, Warwick performed in Joanna Lumley’s The Breaking of Bumbo, the mini-series The Last of the Mohicans, and Franklin J. Schaffner’s Nicholas and Alexandra. While Warwick’s work was consistently well received by critics, his disdain for publicity in support of his projects, prevented his connecting with wider audiences and achieving true stardom.
In 1976, Warwick was cast as Justin in Sebastiane, the controversial homoerotic film by Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress. The film, clearly aimed at gay audiences, features extensive male nudity and gay lust for the male protagonist Sebastian, which fuels the plot. Warwick plays one of the many soldiers who fall in love with, and become obsessed with, Sebastian. The film was shot in Cala Domestica in Sardinia, and England. Brian Eno contributed to the soundtrack.
Following, in 1979, Warwick was cast as R.D. Jackson in School Play, which aired on BBC2 Playhouse. David Nicholas, founder of Guerilla Films recounts his impressions of Warwick and the career challenges facing the actor:
“I worked with Richard on a BBC film called SCHOOL PLAY. I knew him of course from IF which was a seminal film for my generation. He told me lots of stories of the filming. Interestingly he was not as tall as many people thought. Later that year I was walking in New York with a couple of friends and telling them all about Richard. We walked around the corner and Richard was walking towards us. I did not know he was in the City. I saw him a couple of years before he died. I did not know he was ill. He told me he was broke and had a very big tax bill and he just did not know how he was going to pay it. I had to rush to a meeting so did not talk further. He was one of the nicest people I knew. I always thought he should have been a bigger star. I think it was probably because he was gay. This was not because of homophobia as I have rarely come across this in the industry. I think it was just because directors would probably not think he could play those manly roles that are required in leading film parts. Which is rather ironic as several big action Hollywood stars today are gay but it’s all hidden. Richard never hid his sexuality. Everyone liked him. I never heard anyone say a bad word about him. My wife worked him long before I knew her and she said he was a dream to work with. I am often sad when I see him in films or TV repeats that I never knew him better.”
In the early 1980’s, Warwick appeared on ITV as Judi Dench’s brother-in-law in A Fine Romance. Afterwards, work for the actor became sporadic. Starring alongside Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Helena Bonham Carter and others, Warwick was cast as Bernardo in Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990). A year later he appeared in well-received film, The Lost Language of Cranes (1991).
In 1994, Warwick took to the stage to join Baxter in Rope, Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play. Warwick and Baxter had remained close friends after breaking up many years previously.
Warwick started to recognize in himself AIDS-related symptoms and was diagnosed as HIV positive. It was then that he retired from acting. Warwick’s last project was working with Zeffirelli for a third time, in a Jane Eyre adaptation for television in 1996. On December 16, 1997, which would have been Noël Coward’s 98th birthday, Warwick died in St. Johns Wood, at his home.
Ian McKellen, Zoe Wanamaker joined Dench and other close friends of Warwick at his memorial service in January 1998. Susan Penhaligon, who played his wife in A Fine Romance, wrote and dedicated a poem, “The Ashes,” to Warwick that drew on memories he had shared of his childhood in Gloucestershire.
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