Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

A Knight to Remember

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

A Knight to Remember

Article excerpt

One of his generation's most acclaimed actors, Sir John Gielgud also achieved a long and happy gay life

As an actor and as a gay man, Sir John Gielgud--who died on May 21 at age 96--was defined by his elegant voice. Throughout his 70-odd-year career, the great British actor reeled in audiences with his silky tones and superb diction, whether he was performing Shakespeare on the stage of London's Old Vic or hilariously upbraiding Dudley Moore in the hit comedy film Arthur (for which Gielgud's witheringly witty performance netted him a 1981 Best Supporting Actor Academy Award).

Compared to other public figures of his generation, he was relatively direct about his sexuality. As he explained in The Advocate in 1977, "I think people are terrified by the notion of the public knowing they are queer.... I try to be honest; I hate telling lies, but the truth is that I don't think my life of interest--my private life, that is--to anyone but myself." Such reticence did not prevent him from taking political action. In 1978 he added his signature to an ad in Time magazine supporting gay rights in the United States and attacking Anita Bryant and President Carter for their respective positions on the issue.

Offstage Gielgud was, by all appearances, a happily married man. According to his obituary in Britain's Daily Telegraph, the legendary actor "had recently grown weaker since the death last year of his companion of many years, Martin Hensler." Gielgud died at home, at the ornate 17th-century Buckinghamshire estate where he and Hensler had lived together for more than two decades. Neighbors in and around the nearby village of Wotton Underwood spoke fondly of the two, who would often be seen "sitting on chairs on a mound, silently looking out at the view," according to the Telegraph.

"They seemed a wonderful couple," one villager told the newspaper. "They would walk in the fields with their three Tibetan terriers." Another neighbor, the Telegraph reported, remembered that "often, out of the blue, an exotic plant would appear on her porch. There would be no note, but she knew that it was a gift from Sir John."

The world, of course, saw a more formidable man. …

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