Robert Died in My Arms and I Feel So Lost without Him. Acting Doesn't Prepare You for R Eal Grief; BILLIE WHITELAW TALKS MOVINGLY ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT HER HUSBAND
Byline: ANGELA LAMBERT
BILLIE WHITELAW, for 40 years one of the greatest actresses on the British stage, is coming to terms with a new role. Her husband - author and playwright Robert Muller - died last May. They had been happily married for more than 30 years.
He was much more than the magnet that drew her home after an evening at the theatre; he was the rock and anchor of her life. From the moment she first laid eyes on Robert, Billie knew he was different; that this man would be with her until the day she died. It had never occurred that he might die first. Today, nine months later, she has still not begun to come to terms with being on her own.
'Being an actress does not prepare you for real pain or grief. All it does is give you the discipline to put up a good front. But I don't know how to play this role - that of the widow, the woman whose husband has died - and it's very confusing.
'I know how to be a wife or a mother or a grandmother but I don't know how to be a widow. I laugh. I cry. I go like a roller-coaster from one to the other. Afterwards, I've gone through this intense activity, and finally I walk into an empty flat and think: "Now what?" I feel like a loose piece of string. I don't know where to centre my life.' Billie is outwardly composed.
She sits in her small Hampstead flat, casually dressed. Her blonde hair is drawn back from her face and she wears hardly any makeup. She is still, in her
from her face and she wears makeup. She is still, in her mid-60s, very beautiful.
Robert was older than her, though by only eight years.
But, in the summer of 1982 at their holiday home in the South of France, he had suffered a heart attack from which he very nearly died.
'From then on he knew he was living on borrowed time. In the months before, he was writing in a white heat, doing some of the best work of his life.
'But, after a massive stroke on February 3, 1997, he suffered so unacceptably. He was a man with a very fine intellect who went through intolerable mental and physical suffering and I could do nothing to alleviate it. He could not move and, by the end, he could not speak, though his mind was unaffected and he knew exactly what was going on.
'For 15 months, between his stroke and his death, I was at the hospital all the time. Practically all day and every day, supported by our son Matt.
Being with Robert was the entire focus of my life. I never had to say to myself: "Well, now what do I do?"
'He died in my arms on May 27, 1998, his eyes fixed on mine.
Matt, who is 31, was there and also held his father. I was so relieved that we were both with him.
EVEN before he was ill he had said to me: "If I die, I want you and Matty to take my ashes and sprinkle them on the Alster (a great lake that runs through the city of Hamburg)." We took his ashes back to the city where he was born and let them float away. Matt and I held hands and watched him freely go where he wanted to go.
'Thank God for the family.
Robert and Matt and I have shared things for which I will be eternally grateful and now Matt and his partner, Nicky, and their children (Sam, three, and, Holly, 20 months) are the most important things in my life.' Sam was named by her son after one of his schoolfriends, who died aged only 18, but also after playwright Samuel Beck-ett. Billie did her best and most demanding work as an actress in his plays. She
married for the first time in 1952, aged 19.
Her husband, Peter Vaughan, was an actor 12 years her senior, but she had always tended to look for father figures. Theirs turned out, however, to be a childless and not very happy marriage. One evening, soon after their divorce in 1966, she met Robert Muller at the house of mutual friends.
'I found myself spending the next five hours spewing out my entire life story. …