Michael Williams dies

  Actor Michael Williams, husband of Dame Judi Dench, died on Thursday, after a long battle with lung cancer. He was surrounded by friends and family, said a statement issued by his agent, Julian Belfrage Associates. Michael had been ill for many months. Dame Judi recently cancelled engagements to be with him when he took a turn for the worse. Adrian Noble, artistic director of Royal Shakespeare Company, said: "Michael was one of the most gifted and versatile actors of his generation." He added: "The public held him in their affection as something of a national treasure." The night before he died, Michael had celebrated receiving his Papal knighthood. He was awarded the honour in November 2000, but received it officially from Canon John McDonald, national chaplain of the Catholic Stage Guild. Afterwards Michael said: "It was one of the best days I've ever had and could I have a match replay?" A devout Catholic, Michael chaired the Catholic Stage Guild for several years. A spokesman for the Guild said: "We will remember him with affection and gratitude for the tremendous talent that we enjoyed over the years." Alan Yentob, BBC director of drama, entertainment and children's programmes described him as "an incredibly gifted and generous actor who made a memorable contribution to the worlds of theatre, television and radio". Ned Sherrin, who directed Williams and Dame Judi in Mr And Mrs Nobody at London's Garrick Theatre, said: "He was a lovely man and great fun to work with." Williams and Dench met at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where Williams was leading man. They married in 1971 and were considered one of the most successful couples in British showbusiness. They had one daughter, Finty. They would have celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary next month. Michael often said he was Judi's number one fan and always said his own fame did not match hers. In 2000 Dame Judi won an Oscar for Shakespeare In Love and a Tony for her performance in Amy's View. But Michael was also highly rated. The couple worked together on several occasions: in the 1980s ITV comedy series A Fine Romance, in the drama September Song and they also both appeared in the Franco Zefferelli film, Tea With Mussolini.

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