William Needles, Canada’s oldest working actor who graced the stages of Broadway, London and the Stratford Festival for almost 50 years, died last Tuesday at a hospice in Alliston, Ontario, according to a Stratford representative. He was 97.
Needles, a member of the Order of Canada, appeared in more than 100 productions at Stratford over 47 seasons, appearing in everything from “Alice Through the Looking-Glass” to “Henry VI.”
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“The Stratford Festival has lost one of its pioneers, a gifted actor and a favorite uncle. Bill Needles was the embodiment of grace and generosity. His humor, humanity and sense of fun infused his work on and off the stage,” said Stratford’s artistic director Antoni Cimolino.
Born in New York and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, Needles studied at the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago before joining the Stratford Festival in its inaugural season in 1953.
He made his Stratford debut in “Richard III,” under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie. His last performance at the Festival stage was as Castruchio in 2006’s “The Duchess of Malfi.”
Needles — fondly known as “Billie Noodles” — also appeared in the Broadway productions of “Hadrian VII” in 1969 and played Banquo in a 1961 TV film of “Macbeth” with Sean Connery in the title role.
He was a teacher of acting, serving for many years at the University of California at Irvine. One former student, Jon Lovitz, immortalized Needles with his classic “Saturday Night Live” character Master Thespian.
He is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and five children, Jane, Arthur, Dan, Reed and Laura Ann. The Stratford Festival in Ontario is dedicating the 2016 production of “As You Like It” to Needles’ memory.