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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Jacob Stolworthy

Paxton Whitehead death: Prolific stage actor and Friends guest star dies, aged 85

Carolyn Contino/BEI/Shutterstock

Prolific stage actor Paxton Whitehead, also known for his many sitcom appearances, has died, aged 85.

The actor had numerous guest appearances in hit comedies from the 1990s, including Friends, Frasier, Ellen, 3rd Rock from the Sun and The Drew Carey Show.

But it was the recurring role of Hal Conway in Mad About You for which he was best known by TV viewers. He played the wife of Judy Geeson’s Maggie in nine episodes.

Whitehead, who was born in 1937, died on 16 June, and the news was announced by his son Charles.

The actor, who was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, trained at London’s Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art when he was 17, before embarking on an illustrious acting career that saw him perform on stage and screen.

In the 1960s, he made his Broadway debut in Ronald Millar’s The Affair, and went on to replade Jonathan Miller in the critically acclaimed Beyond the Fringe, which introduced audiences to the comedy of British stars including Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Alan Bennett.

He played Sherlock Holmes opposite Glenn Close in 1978’s Broadway production of The Crucifer of Blood, performed in Lettice and Lovage (1990) opposite Maggie Smith, and most recently starred alongside Janet McTeer in 2018’s Bernhardt/Hamlet.

Whitehead received a Tony nomination for his performance as Pellinore in the 1980 revival of Camelot.

He was also the one-time artistic director of the Shaw Festival, a repertory company dedicated to the works of Geogre Bernard Shaw, where he pushed through plans to buld a purpose-built 869-seat theatre at the festival’s site in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Guests during his tenure, which ran from 1973 to 1977, included Queen Elizabeth II and Indira Gandhi.

Paxton Whitehead photographed in 2011 (Carolyn Contino/BEI/Shutterstock)

Whitehead also enjoyed a film career in the 1980s.

The actor starred opposite Whoopi Goldberg in Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986) and Diane Keaton in Baby Boom (1987). He had a memorable role in Rodney Dangerfield’s comedy Back to School (1986), playing business school professor Dr Barbay.

In the 1990s, he appeared in the hit sitcom Friends, in which he played the boss of Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and uncle of Emily (Helen Baxendale). The following decade, he made a cameo in Desperate Housewives as the father of a love interest to Teri Hatcher’s character, Susan.

The actor is survived by his son Charles and daughter Alex.

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