Paul Scofield in 'A Man for All Seasons'

Paul Scofield in 'A Man for All Seasons'

Paul Scofield, one of the giants of the British stage who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Sir Thomas More in the 1966 film "A Man for All Seasons," has died. He was 86.

Scofield, who had been suffering from leukemia, died Wednesday in a hospital near his home in Sussex, England, his agent, Rosalind Chatto, said in a statement.

Considered one of the most talented actors of his generation, the tall, craggy-faced Scofield had a memorably rich voice that movie director Fred Zinnemann likened to the sound of "a Rolls-Royce being started."

An admiring Richard Burton once said of his fellow actor, whose stage roles included Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Othello: "Of the 10 greatest moments in the theater, eight are Scofield's."

Ranked with stage greats Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud by British critics and actors in the 1950s and '60s, Scofield was praised by critic Kenneth Tynan for "his power to enlarge a role until it fits him, as a hatter will stretch a bowler."

Scofield originated the role of More, the morally courageous 16th century chancellor of England who defied King Henry VIII, in Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons" on the London stage in 1960.

A year later, he was playing More on Broadway, a role for which he won a Tony Award for best actor in a play.

"With a kind of weary magnificence," a Time magazine writer observed, "Scofield sinks himself in the part, studiously underplays it, and somehow displays the inner mind of a man destined for sainthood."

His best-actor Oscar-winning performance as More in Zinnemann's movie version of "A Man for All Seasons" -- which won six Oscars, including best picture -- brought Scofield international fame.

Not that he sought such attention.

An intensely private man -- "Privacy is not negotiable" -- Scofield did not seek publicity and rarely gave interviews.

"It is a snare and a delusion to become too well known," he once said.

Despite his place in the pantheon of great British actors, he viewed himself as "a worker" rather than "an actor of ego."

Three decades after his Oscar win, Scofield received a supporting actor Oscar nomination for his role as Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren in director Robert Redford's 1994 drama "Quiz Show."

Scofield, who had turned down a Hollywood studio's offer of a seven-year contract in 1946 to continue his stage work, made his screen debut playing King Philip II of Spain in "That Lady," a 1955 historical drama starring Olivia de Havilland.

Other movie credits included "The Train" (1964), the title role in "King Lear" (1971), "A Delicate Balance" (1973), "Henry V" (1989), "Hamlet" (1990) and "The Crucible" (1996).

Among his television credits were "Male of the Species" for NBC's "Prudential's On Stage," for which he won an Emmy Award.

But Scofield preferred the stage to film and television.

His many stage triumphs included his acclaimed performance as Lear in a landmark production of "King Lear" for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1962, and his searing performance as the tormented composer Antonio Salieri in the original 1979 London production of Peter Shaffer's "Amadeus."