Keith Michell

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Keith Michell
Keith Michell colour Allan Warren.jpg
Michell in 1973, by Allan Warren
Born Keith Joseph Michell
(1926-12-01)1 December 1926
Adelaide, Australia
Died 20 November 2015(2015-11-20) (aged 88)
Hampstead, London, England, U.K.
Years active 1951–2010
Spouse(s) Jeanette Sterke (1957–2015; his death); 2 children
Children Paul and Helena

Keith Joseph Michell (1 December 1926 – 20 November 2015) was an Australian actor who was best known for his television and film portrayals of King Henry VIII of England.[1]

Early life[edit]

Michell was born in Adelaide, South Australia, and brought up in Warnertown, near Port Pirie. He was the son of Joseph, a cabinet-maker, and Alice (née Aslat), and studied at Port Pirie high school, Adelaide Teachers’ College and Adelaide University. While teaching art, he made his first stage appearance, in Bill Daily’s comedy Lover’s Leap at the Playbox theatre in Adelaide in 1947.

After working for the ABC radio network in the city, in 1949 Michell left for Britain and the Old Vic Theatre School.


Michell first appeared in London in 1951. He has starred in several musicals, including the first London production of Man of La Mancha, in which he played the dual role of Miguel de Cervantes and his fictional creation, Don Quixote.[2] (An album set was also made of this performance.[3]) In 1964 he starred as Robert Browning in the musical Robert And Elizabeth, opposite Australian soprano June Bronhill.[4]

Michell at Chichester Festival Theatre in 1962

Michell acted with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company, as well as appearing extensively in film and television, notably as King Henry VIII in The Six Wives of Henry VIII in 1970, and as Heathcliff in BBC Television's 1962 adaptation of Wuthering Heights.[5] He was the artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre from 1974 to 1977.[6]

On American television, Michell made appearances on the mystery series Murder, She Wrote, playing Dennis Stanton, a former jewel thief turned insurance claims investigator who always solved his cases with unusual methods and sent a copy of the story to his friend Jessica Fletcher afterwards.[6]

As well as acting, Michell pursued other interests: he wrote the musical Pete McGynty and the Dreamtime, an Australian rendering of Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt, the performance of which used Michell's own paintings as backdrops.[7] He also illustrated a limited edition run of William Shakespeare's sonnets, for which he did the calligraphy; and wrote and illustrated a number of macrobiotic cookbooks. Michell himself was a proponent of the macrobiotic diet and philosophy.

Michell illustrated Captain Beaky, a collection of Jeremy Lloyd's poems.[2] The Captain Beaky character enjoyed success in the UK in the early 1980s, among both children and adults. The song "Captain Beaky", sung by Michell, peaked at No. 5 in the UK Singles Chart in 1980.[8]

Personal life and death[edit]

He was married to the actress Jeanette Sterke and they had a son, Paul, and a daughter, Helena, who appeared in the films Prick Up Your Ears and Maurice.[citation needed]

Keith Michell died on 20 November 2015 in Hampstead, London, aged 88.[9][10]



  1. ^ "The Guardian: Obituary: Keith Michell". 
  2. ^ a b AllMusic – Keith Michell biography
  3. ^ Man of La Mancha sound recording – Trove entry
  4. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography – Ronald Erle Grainer
  5. ^ Wake, Oliver. "Wuthering Heights (1962)". Screenonline. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  6. ^ a b c IMDB – Keith Michell
  7. ^ Pete McGynty and the Dreamtime by Keith Michell – Trove entry
  8. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 362. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  9. ^ Barker, Dennis (20 November 2015). "Keith Michell obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 November 2015. 
  10. ^ Barnes, Mike. "Keith Michell, Star of 'Six Wives of Henry VIII,' Dies at 89". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 21 November 2015. 

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