Brian Bedford, whose brought the famous outlaw to life as a fox in the 1973 animated film, has died aged 80 after a two-year battle with cancer.
He passed away in Santa Barbara, California on January 13 but Mr Bedford was said to have been raised in poverty.
He left school at the age of 15 and joined an amateur dramatic group in Bradford. It was the springboard to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London where his classmates included Peter O’Toole, of Hunslet, and future kitchen-sink drama stars Albert Finney and Alan Bates.
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After that the West End beckoned where Mr Bedford was mentored by Sir John Gielgud. More stage roles followed and the actor became noted for his performances in plays by Shakespeare and Molière.
Mr Bedford had an almost-three-decade long association with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada, which he credited as making his life.
The festival’s artistic director Antoni Cimolino, paying tribute, said: “Brian Bedford was the prime reason I went into the theatre. I saw him in Molière’s Misanthrope, and it made me feel that he embodied the spirit of comedy itself. And yet he was entirely himself. Here was an actor who knew who he was and we loved him for it. He was brilliantly witty, completely relaxed, and made us all adore him.
“But to see him in tragedy was another revelation. He was absolutely in the moment, with a strongly personal point of view, a vital intelligence keyed to a modern sensibility.
“When I had the great privilege of working with and eventually directing Brian, I was overwhelmed by his generosity. He became a mentor, a role model and an inspiration.”
A spokeswoman for the Stratford Festival said Mr. Bedford’s credits read like a list of Shakespeare’s greatest hits. She also said his comic pairings were the stuff of dreams, including his role as Elyot Chase alongside Maggie Smith’s Amanda in Private Lives
He was widely regarded as an authority on playwright Noël Coward’s work and knew the playwright personally. He directed and acted in Coward’s plays numerous times.
The spokeswoman said Mr Bedford’s portrayal of the suave sophisticate appeared so effortless that it was almost impossible to reconcile with the reality of his childhood. She said he was born to a poor family in Yorkshire in 1936.
The young Brian found escape in the theatre, first performing in amateur theatrics and then, at 18, winning a scholarship to RADA.
He was a protégé of John Gielgud, who coached him as Hamlet and directed him in the acclaimed Five Finger Exercise. The two shared the stage in 1958, when Mr. Bedford played Ariel to Mr. Gielgud’s Prospero in The Tempest.
The Morley actor’s star rose quickly in the UK with leading roles in The Young and the Beautiful and A View From the Bridge. In 1959, Five Finger Exercise transferred to Broadway, where the play found great success.
He had a dozen Broadway credits and a Best Actor Tony to his name when then artistic director Robin Phillips lured him to the Stratford Festival.
He made his Stratford debut in 1975. Over 29 seasons, Mr Bedford performed in more than 50 Stratford productions and directed another 20.
Though he was primarily a stage actor, Mr Bedford TV credits included Cheers, Frasier and Murder, She Wrote.
He also starred opposite James Garner in the 1966 film Grand Prix.
Mr Bedford’s most recent Stratford credits included the title role in 2007’s King Lear and Lady Bracknell in 2009’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
His 2013 production of Blithe Spirit would turn out to be his final project at Stratford.
Artistic director Mr Cimolino: “Over the years Brian’s luminous presence on our stages made his performances ‘must sees’ for countless audience members.
“We were blessed indeed that he chose to make Stratford his artistic home. And we are bereft to think that we shall not see, or hear, his like again.
“Brian, we thank you, we honour you and we miss you.”
Mr Bedford leaves behind his partner of 30 years, Tim MacDonald.
The Stratford Festival will dedicate the 2016 production of Macbeth to Mr Bedford’s memory.