Roger Rees

Roger Rees (5 May 1944 – 10 July 2015) was a Welsh actor and director, widely known for his stage work. He won an Olivier Award and a Tony Award for his performance as the lead in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. He also received Obie Awards for his role in The End of the Day and as co-director of Peter and the Starcatcher. Rees was posthumously inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in November 2015.

Roger Rees
Rees in 2004
Born(1944-05-05)5 May 1944
Died10 July 2015(2015-07-10) (aged 71)
OccupationActor, director
Years active1975–2015
Rick Elice (m. 2011)

He was widely known to American television audiences for playing the characters Robin Colcord in Cheers and Lord John Marbury in The West Wing.

Early life

Rees was born in Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire, Wales, the son of Doris Louise (née Smith), a shop clerk, and William John Rees, a police officer.[1] He studied art at the Camberwell College of Arts and the Slade School of Fine Art, turning to acting when he was painting backdrops at the Wimbledon Theatre and was asked to fill a part in a play.[2]


Rees started his career with the Royal Shakespeare Company.[3][4] He played Malcolm in the acclaimed Trevor Nunn 1976 stage and 1978 television production of Macbeth.[4] Rees created the title role in the original production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, David Edgar's stage adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel, winning a Laurence Olivier Award for Actor of the Year in a New Play in 1980 and a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 1982.[4] A recorded version of the play also earned him an Emmy nomination in 1983.[5] He also starred in the original production of The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard at the Strand Theatre in London in 1982.

Rees began to work in television during the 1970s, appearing opposite Laurence Olivier in The Ebony Tower (1984). That same year, Rees portrayed Fred Hollywell in A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott as Scrooge. In 1986, he played William Tyndale in God's Outlaw. From 1988 to 1991 he starred in the late 80s/early 90s British sitcom Singles, with co-star Judy Loe. From 1989 to 1991 and in 1993, he also appeared intermittently on the long-running American television series Cheers as the English tycoon Robin Colcord. His later television appearances include My So-Called Life as substitute teacher Mr. Racine, British Ambassador Lord John Marbury on The West Wing and James MacPherson on Warehouse 13.[4] His film career began in the 1980s. Rees played the Sheriff of Rottingham in the Mel Brooks movie, Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993).[4] Rees' later film appearances include Frida (2002), The Prestige (2006), and The Pink Panther (2006).[4]

Continuing his work in the theatre through the 1990s, both as an actor and a director, Rees was awarded an Obie Award for his 1992 performance in the Off-Broadway play The End of the Day. In 1995, he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his role in Indiscretions.[4][6] He recorded many audiobooks, including Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice.[7]

From November 2004 to October 2007, Rees was artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, only the fourth person to hold the post in its half-century history.[4][8] He replaced Nathan Lane in the role of Gomez Addams in the Broadway musical adaptation of The Addams Family, on 22 March 2011 and remained until the end of the run on 31 December 2011.[9][10]

In 2012, Rees took his one-man Shakespeare show, What You Will, to London's West End, playing a three-week engagement at the Apollo Theatre.

In 2013, Rees directed Crispin Whitell's play, The Primrose Path, at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. In 2014, Rees directed Dog and Pony, a musical written by Rick Elice and Michael Patrick Walker, which had its world premiere at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.

His last role was as Anton Schell in the musical version of The Visit, opposite Chita Rivera, which opened on Broadway on 23 April 2015 and closed on 14 June 2015.[11] Rees left the production in May 2015 due to his illness.[12]

Rees was to have directed a new musical written by Elice and Will Van Dyke, Magnificent Climb, in the fall of 2016 at MCC Theater in New York. He was also scheduled to perform his one-man Shakespeare show, What You Will in New York in the autumn of 2015, and had hoped to return to the Royal Shakespeare Company for a stint in Don Quixote in 2016. He was inducted into the exclusive entertainment fraternity, the Grand Order of Water Rats, as a full member.[13]

Personal life

Rees had lived in the United States for more than 25 years;[2] he became a naturalised U.S. citizen in 1989.[5] He converted to Judaism in the 1980s.[14] Rees married his partner of 33 years, playwright Rick Elice, in 2011.[15][16][17] Rees and Elice also collaborated professionally, including as co-playwrights of the comedic thriller Double Double.[18] Elice co-wrote (with Marshall Brickman) the libretto for The Addams Family musical, the cast of which Rees had joined on 22 March 2011. In 2012, Elice and Rees received Tony Award nominations for Elice's stage adaptation and Rees' co-direction (with Alex Timbers), respectively, of Peter and the Starcatcher.[4] In October 2017, Elice wrote a memoir of his life with Rees, entitled Finding Roger: An Improbably Theatrical Love Story.[19]

Illness and death

After a diagnosis of brain cancer in October 2014, Rees focused his energy on his commitment to playing opposite Chita Rivera on Broadway in The Visit, the final musical written by John Kander and Fred Ebb. While undergoing two brain surgeries, two courses of radiation and ongoing chemotherapy, Rees managed to rehearse, preview and open in The Visit on 23 April 2015. By the middle of May, it had become too difficult for him to speak, and he left the show. Rees died at age 71 at his home in New York on 10 July 2015. On Wednesday, 15 July 2015, the marquee lights at all the theatres on Broadway were dimmed in his honour.[20] His ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean. Two months later, there was a memorial service for him at Broadway's New Amsterdam Theatre.[21]






  1. "Roger Rees Biography (1944–)".
  2. Khomami, Nadia (11 July 2015). "Actor Roger Rees dies aged 71". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  3. Roger Rees profile, Yahoo! Movies; accessed 11 July 2015.
  4. "Roger Rees, Tony Winner and Robin Colcord on 'Cheers,' Dies". Wall Street Journal. New York. 11 July 2015. Retrieved 12 July 2015. Roger Rees, the lanky Tony Award-winning Welsh-born actor and director who made his mark onstage as Nicholas Nickleby and later played English multi-millionaire Robin Colcord on the TV show "Cheers," has died. He was 71.
  5. Simonson, Robert (11 July 2015). "Roger Rees, Stage Actor Made Famous by Nicholas Nickleby, Dies at 71". Playbill. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  6. " Indiscretions Listing on Broadway", accessed 24 May 2015
  7. "Roger Rees – Narrators – AudioFile Magazine".
  8. "Rees Leaving Williamstown Theatre Festival"
  9. BWW News Desk. "Roger Rees to Replace Nathan Lane in THE ADDAMS FAMILY". Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  10. "Roger Rees Extends THE ADDAMS FAMILY Run Through Closing on December 31". 19 September 2011. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  11. Hetrick, Adam. "A Musical Nearly 20 Years in the Making: 'The Visit', Starring Chita Rivera, Arrives On Broadway at Long Last",, 26 March 2015
  12. Roger Rees to miss performances of The Visit,; accessed 12 July 2015.
  13. "Biography of a Water Rat".
  14. "How 'Peter and the Starcatcher' took flight – The Ticket". Jewish Journal.
  15. "Roger Rees ramps up What You Will".
  16. "Roger Rees Tests His 'Will' Shakespearean Roles Don't Define the Actor, but He's Clearly Bard-Wired" by Peter Marks The Washington Post Sunday, 25 March 2007
  17. Michael Schulman (4 June 2012). "Backstory". The New Yorker.
  18. "Review: 'Double Double'". Variety. 22 August 2006. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  19. Riedel, Michael (28 September 2017). "The Broadway love story of two kings of the Great White Way". New York Post. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  20. Barnes, Mike (10 July 2015). "Roger Rees, Star of 'The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby,' Dies at 71". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  21. Desk, BWW News. "Roger Rees Memorial Set for September 21 at The New Amsterdam Theatre".
  22. Rees, Jasper (27 November 2016). "The Mayflower Pilgrims: Behind the Myth was a rigorous historical account told with clarity: review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  23. Trowbridge, Simon (2010). "Roger Rees". A Biographical Dictionary of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Oxford, England: Editions Simon Creed. ISBN 0-9559830-2-9.
  24. "Cymbeline". RSC Performance Database. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
  25. "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby". RSC Database. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
  26. Edwards, Christopher (19 March 1988). "Trick of the light". The Spectator: 43–44.
  27. Barclay, Alison (7 May 2010). "Sir Ian McKellen is mistaken for a tramp on a Melbourne bench between Waiting for Godot rehearsals". Herald Sun. Retrieved 17 May 2010.
  28. Andrew Gans (21 May 2012). "Herringbone, With Tony Winner BD Wong, Plays NYC May 21–22; Performances Will Be Recorded". PlayBill.
  29. "The Winslow Boy". Roundabout Theatre. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
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