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Obituary: David Kelly

David Kelly

Obituary by Jack Foley

IRISH stage and screen actor David Kelly has died at the age of 82.

The popular performer was known for a wide-reaching career that included films such as Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as well as playing the feckless builder Mr O’Reilly in Fawlty Towers.

But he is perhaps best remembered for riding a motorbike naked in the comedy Waking Ned, a performance which went on to earn him a Screen Actors’ Guild nomination in 1998.

Born in Dublin on July 11, 1929, Kelly enjoyed a 50 year career that ranged from dramatic roles to comedic ones, during which he played everything from Beckett to Shakespeare.

In his native Ireland, he is well known for the historical drama mini-series Strumpet City, which starred Peter O’Toole and Peter Ustinov, and which aired in 1980.

While he also received a Helen Hayes Award for his role in Moon for the Misbegotten and an ESB Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in the Irish theatre.

In the ’70s, he became a familiar face on British television with a long running role as the one-armed dishwasher Albert Riddle in Robin’s Nest, which paved the way for his role as the inept builder Mr O’Reilly on the second episode of Fawlty Towers.

He went on to have starring roles in television shows such as Emmerdale Farm in the 1980s and Glenroe in the 1990s, as well as playing the grandfather in Mike Newell’s Into The West in 1992.

But it was his acclaimed performance as Michael O’Sullivan in 1998’s Waking Ned that helped him to make the leap into films during his latter yeas, during which he found work in small but noticeable roles in such films as Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London and The Jigsaw Man opposite Laurence Olivier.

He also became known to Hollywood audiences for playing Grandpa Joe in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory alongside Johnny Depp and a young Freddie Highmore.

His final film role was in the 2007 British fantasy film Stardust, in which he played a deceptively nimble, high-kicking wall guard.

Kelly was married to actor Laurie Morton and had two children.

His friend, Ballykissangel star Niall Toibin, told the Press Association: “He was a hilarious man. He had an outlook on life that was slightly skewed and made you laugh all the time.”