Ben Cross

Ben Cross Headshot

Actor

Birth Name: Harry Bernard Cross

Birth Date: December 16, 1947

Death Date: August 18, 2020

Birth Place: London, England, UK

Composed, cerebral actor Ben Cross first came to international attention as the Olympic runner Harold Abrahams in Hugh Hudson's inspiring drama "Chariots of Fire" (1981). The Oscar-winning drama set the tone for much of Cross' subsequent film and television career, which found him playing upstanding young men whose passions - either romantic or professional - clashed with the established order in projects like "The Citadel" (BBC, 1983) and "The Far Pavilions" (HBO, 1984). Cross' popularity cooled in subsequent years, but he remained remarkably active in a wide-ranging selection of projects around the globe, which cast him as everything from vampires in "Dark Shadows" (NBC, 1991) to Biblical kings in "Solomon" (1997). In 2009, he enjoyed a return to Hollywood with a small role in J.J. Abrams' big-screen revamp of "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-68) before continuing his career as one of international film's most dependable and talented performers.

Born Harry Bernard Cross on Dec. 16, 1947 in London, England, Cross developed a taste for acting while very young, appearing in numerous grammar school productions - most notably as Jesus in a school pageant at the age of 12. He left home just three years later and worked in various jobs before settling into one that combined his passion for acting with his knack for handiwork - as the master carpenter at the Welsh National Opera. Cross' passion for acting led him to pursue the craft as a profession, so in 1970, the 22-year-old was accepted into the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After graduation, he immersed himself in classic theater at the Duke's Playhouse before joining the Prospect Theatre Company, where he tackled both Shakespeare and modern productions like "The Royal Hunt of the Sun." Later, he would flex his musical talents in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Irma La Douce" at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester. During this period, Cross was also enjoying modest success as a songwriter, penning several singles, including the Polydor release "Mickey Moonshine."

Cross broke into screen acting in the early 1970s with supporting roles in television productions like "Great Expectations" (ITC, 1974) before making his movie debut in the World War II drama "A Bridge Too Far" in 1976. More television followed, as did Cross' acceptance into the Royal Shakespeare Company and considerable theater work, including an acclaimed turn as crooked lawyer Billy Flynn in a 1978 production of "Chicago." In 1981, Cross found himself at the center of international attention as one of the leads in Hugh Hudson's "Chariots of Fire," the inspirational story of two British athletes who overcome personal and spiritual conflicts to compete in the 100 meter race in the 1924 Olympics. Cross played Harold Abrahams, a Jewish athlete who faces anti-Semitism and elitism from his alma mater of Cambridge University before winning the 100 meter competition. The film - with its iconic theme song by Vangelis - went on to win four Academy Awards, and thrust Cross into the cinematic spotlight.

However, Cross never quite made the transition from success in European features to American movies. He seemed most at home in English television dramas like "The Flame Trees of Thika" (ITV, 1981) or "The Citadel," which cast him as a Scottish doctor caught up in the bureaucracy of the English medical system in the Twenties. Indeed, historical dramas on television were his forte for years; he was a colonial British soldier in love with a princess in "The Far Pavilions," and an Italian priest aiding Jews in World War II-era Rome in "The Assisi Underground" (1985), which first aired on American television. His forays into features were largely relegated to low-budget efforts like the grisly horror film "The Unholy" (1988) or independent-minded films like the underrated "Paperhouse" (1989), which cast him as the absent father of a highly impressionable young girl who escapes into a dangerous fantasy world. Cross was also a regular face on American advertising, most notably as the spokesperson for the Polaroid Spectra camera in 1986, and in a 1984 spot for American Express which featured him alongside the real Jackson Scholz, who competed against Harold Abrahams in the 1924 Olympics.

He was ideally cast as Barnabas Collins, the undead and lovestruck vampire in a 1991 revival of the Gothic soap "Dark Shadows," but the series failed to connect with viewers in the same manner as its predecessor. Undaunted, Cross continued to travel the globe for co-starring roles in international productions like "Live Wire" (1992), which cast him against type as a cold-blooded Russian terrorist hunted by demolition expert Pierce Brosnan, or "Solomon" (1997), which cast him as the famously wise king of Biblical history.

Cross remained exceptionally busy in virtually every corner of the globe at the dawn of the new millennium, and in nearly every type of film - from Hollywood product like the ill-fated "Exorcist: The Beginning" (2004) and the USA Network remake of "Spartacus" (2004), to the Australian minseries "The Potato Factory" (7 Network, 2000) and the epic fantasy "Grendel" (2007) in Bulgaria. Along the way, he tackled Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, in the BBC miniseries "Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial" (2006) and logged more than a few hours in low-budget horror and action films ranging from "Wicked Little Things" (2006) to "Species: The Awakening" (2007). Cross also added composer and director to his busy resume, including two original musicals, "The Best We've Ever Had" and "Nearly Midnight," which played the Edinburgh Fringe Festivals in 2002 and 2003, respectively, and a production of "Square One" in London that starred his son, Theo. In 2009, Cross returned to Hollywood features with a small but significant role as Sarek, the Vulcan father of Spock (Zachary Quinto) in "Star Trek." The film, which attempted to give the celebrated science fiction series an origin story by tracing the early careers of its heroes, was among the most highly anticipated releases of the year. Ben Cross died on August 18, 2020 in Vienna, Austria at the age of 72.

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