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Sir Reginald “Rex” Carey Harrison (5 March 1908 – 2 June 1990) was an English actor of stage and screen. Harrison won both an Academy Award and a Tony Award.

Youth and stage career

Harrison was born in Huyton, then part of Lancashire, and educated at Liverpool College. After a bout of childhood measles, Harrison lost most of the sight in his left eye which on one occasion caused some on-stage difficulty.He first appeared on the stage in 1924 in Liverpool. Harrison's acting career was interrupted during World War II whilst he served in the Royal Air Force, reaching the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He acted in various stage productions until 11 May 1990. He acted in the West End of London when he was young, appearing in the Terence Rattigan play French Without Tears, which proved to be his breakthrough role.

He alternated appearances in London and New York in such plays as Bell, Book and Candle (1950), Venus Observed, The Cocktail Party, The Kingfisher, and The Love of Four Colonels, which he also directed. He won his first Tony Award for his appearance as Henry VIII in Anne of the Thousand Days and international superstardom (and a second Tony Award) for his Henry Higgins in the musical My Fair Lady, in which he appeared opposite a young Julie Andrews. Later appearances included 's Pirandello's Enrico IV, a 1984 appearance at the Haymarket Theatre with Claudette Colbert in Frederick Lonsdale's Aren't We All?, and one on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre presented by Douglas Urbanski, at the Haymarket in J. M. Barrie's The Admirable Crichton with Edward Fox. He returned as Henry Higgins in a highly paid revival of My Fair Lady directed by Patrick Garland in 1981, cementing his association with the plays of George Bernard Shaw which included a Tony nominated performance as Shotover in Heartbreak House, Julius Caesar in Caesar and Cleopatra, and General Burgoyne in a Los Angeles production of The Devil's Disciple.

In film

Harrison's film debut was in The Great Game (1930), and other notable early films include The Citadel (1938), Night Train to Munich (1940), Major Barbara (1941), Blithe Spirit (1945), Anna and the King of Siam (1946), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), and The Foxes of Harrow (1947). He was best known for his portrayal of Professor Henry Higgins in the musical My Fair Lady, based on the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, especially after he reprised the role in the 1964 film version, for which he won a Best Actor Oscar. The 1956 cast album set sales records at the time. He revived the role on stage in the early 1980s. He also starred in 1967's Doctor Dolittle. Harrison was not by general terms a singer; thus, the music was generally written to allow for long periods of recitative, generally identified as "speaking to the music".

Although excelling in comedy (Noël Coward described him thus: "the best light comedy actor in the world—except for me."),[5] he attracted favourable notices in dramatic roles such as his portrayal of Julius Caesar in Cleopatra (1963) and as Pope Julius II in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), opposite Charlton Heston as Michelangelo. He also appeared as an aging homosexual man opposite Richard Burton as his lover in Staircase(1969).[6] He also acted in a Hindi movie Shalimar alongside Indian Bollywood star Dharmendra.

Personal life

Harrison was married six times. In 1942 he divorced his first wife, Colette Thomas, and married actress Lilli Palmer the next year; the two later appeared together in numerous plays and films, including The Fourposter

In 1947, while married to Palmer, Harrison began an affair with actress Carole Landis. Landis committed suicide in 1948 after spending the night with Harrison. Harrison's involvement in the scandal surrounding Landis' death briefly damaged his career and his contract with FOX was ended by mutual consent.

Harrison and Lilli Palmer divorced in 1957. That same year, Harrison married actress Kay Kendall. Kendall died of leukemia in 1959. He was subsequently married to Welsh-born Rachel Roberts from 1962 to 1971 (Roberts committed suicide in 1980). Harrison then married Elizabeth Rees-Williams and, finally, Mercia Tinker, who would become his widow in 1990.

Chronology of Harrison's six marriages

Colette Thomas (1934-1942), (one son, the actor/singer Noel Harrison)

Lilli Palmer (1943-1957), (one son, the novelist/playwright Carey Harrison)

Kay Kendall (1957-1959)

Rachel Roberts (1962-1971)

Elizabeth Harris (1971-1975), (three stepsons, Damian Harris, Jared Harris, and Jamie Harris)

Mercia Tinker (1978-1990)

Grandchildren

Granddaughters: Cathryn, Harriott and Chloe

Grandsons: Will and Simon

Death

Having retired from films in the late 1970s, Harrison continued to act on Broadway until the end of his life, despite suffering from glaucoma, painful teeth, and a failing memory. In 1989 he appeared on Broadway in The Circle by W. Somerset Maugham, opposite Glynis Johns and Stewart Granger, when he fell ill. He died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Manhattan on 2 June 1990 at the age of 82.

Harrison's second autobiography, A Damned Serious Business: My Life in Comedy (ISBN 0553073419), was published posthumously in 1991.

Honours

On 25 July 1989 Harrison was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. An orchestra played the music of songs from My Fair Lady.

Rex Harrison has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one at 6906 Hollywood Boulevard for his contribution to motion pictures, and another at 6380 Hollywood Boulevard for his contribution to the television industry.

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