Chariots of Fire star Ben Cross dies, aged 72

The London-born actor died after a short illness in Vienna.

Ben Cross

Ben Cross, the London-born star of 1981 Oscar-winning smash Chariots of Fire, has died after illness in Vienna at the age of 72.

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Cross memorably played the British Olympic sprinter Harold Abrahams in the classic period drama Chariots of Fire, which co-starred Nigel Havers, Ian Holm and John Gielgud, and won four Oscars in 1982, including Best Picture.

Cross is probably most recently remembered for his role as Spock’s father, Vulcan astrophysicist Sarek in 2009’s Star Trek movie, but he had an extraordinarily busy career right up to the last and had only recently finished a horror movie The Devil’s Light.

Cross died on Tuesday and his daughter, Lauren, registered her shock at his passing on Facebook.

“I am utterly heartbroken to share with you that my darling father died a few hours ago,” she wrote. “He had been sick for a while, but there was a rapid decline over the past week. The press will be announcing his death soon, I just wanted you all – his most loyal and loving fans – to hear it from us first. Thank you for all your support over the years.”

Cross reportedly left school to work in a succession of manual jobs, including window cleaning and carpentry, but his acting career began in earnest when he gained a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London at the age of 22.

He excelled at RADA and soon became employed in big screen roles, including World War II classic A Bridge Too Far in 1976. But it was his performance as the simmering, determined sprinter Abrahams, who was fired by his Jewish background, in Chariots of Fire that gained him worldwide fame.

Cross had conflicting feelings about the role. He told the Jewish Chronicle in 2012: “Here we are, talking about it again. How often does that happen? There are times when I have felt resentful, but I’ve mellowed. I’ve reconnected with Hugh [Hudson, the director] after many years and I feel if the film is good for [producer] David Puttnam and good for the Olympics, I think to myself, come on Ben.”

Cross was not, in fact, Jewish and he took it as a compliment that many people thought he was.

“I wanted to address that aspect of Abrahams’s character – his upbringing and his personality,” he said. “I also wanted to get into the Jewish questions like snobbery and antisemitism. I came to the conclusion that Abrahams was motivated by a combination of prejudice and paranoia. I played Harold as a man whose pilot light was always lit. There was this quiet defensive anger and occasionally the boiler would light up.”

Cross also starred in 1995’s First Knight, opposite Sean Connery, as well as BBC drama The Citadel and HBO espionage movie Steal the Sky, among many other roles.

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Cross is survived by his wife, Deyana, and two children, Lauren and Theo.