Stanley Kubrick collaborator and actor Leon Vitali dies aged 74

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Leon Vitali, a long-time collaborator with film director Stanley Kubrick, has died aged 74.

The official Twitter channel for Kubrick said in a tweet: “It is with the greatest of sadness that we have to tell you that the mainstay of a vast number of Kubrick’s films, Leon Vitali, passed away peacefully last night. Our thoughts are with his family and all that new and loved him.”

Vitali started his acting career in the early 1970s, with small roles in a number of TV hits, such as Z Cars, Van der Valk and Dixon of Dock Green.

After appearing in Please Sir! he went on to have a regular role in its successor The Fenn Street Gang, as the character Peter Craven.

In 1974, he met Stanley Kubrick, and was offered the part of Lord Bullingdon in the film director’s movie Barry Lyndon, and the pair are said to have bonded.

The film is now much less famous than A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, but it won four Oscars, and was nominated for three more – more than any of Kubrick’s other films.

It was the start of a collaboration that would see Vitali act as Kubrick’s assistant for a series of further films, including Golden Globe-nominated Eyes Wide Shut and Oscar-nominated Full Metal Jacket, as well as The Shining.

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He also took on another acting role in Eyes Wide Shut, playing the part of Red Cloak.

Leon Vitali with co-star Liz Gebhardt in a promotional shot for the 1971 ITV hit series The Fenn Street Gang
Image:
Leon Vitali with co-star Liz Gebhardt in a promotional shot for the 1971 ITV hit series The Fenn Street Gang

A 2018 documentary on Vitali called Filmworker revealed that since Kubrick’s death in 1999, he had continued to work on the legendary director’s films and legacy.

Filmworker credits Vitali with finding and recruiting the child star of The Shining, Danny Lloyd, to play the role of Danny, Jack Nicholson’s psychic son, and then coaching him to get the best performance out of him.

Tributes have been paid by several in the film industry, including the director of Disney’s Coco and Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich, a major fan of The Shining, who said on Twitter: “Completely heartbroken to hear about the passing of Leon Vitali. He helped me *enormously* with my Shining book and I’m gutted that he won’t see it. He was a sweet, kind, humble, generous man and a vital part of Stanley Kubrick’s team. RIP, dear Leon.”

Vitali was credited as a casting director for Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut and in another of his responsibilities collected Kubrick’s thoughts down in copious amounts of notes, which he then later used as part of his attempts to ensure people remembered his former boss.

Vitali said that after seeing A Clockwork Orange and admiring the extravagant performances that Kubrick got from his actors he told himself: “I want to work for that man.”

Once he had secured his position, he was said to have worked so hard for Kubrick that his children later said he saw more of the director than he did of them.

Full Metal Jacket star Matthew Modine once said: “What Leon did was a selfless act, a kind of crucifixion of himself.”

He played a few other roles in his later years, including a character in the 1981 film Inter Rail and as an apothecary in the 2013 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, starring among other Damian Lewis.

He also worked with filmmaker Todd Field, as a technical consultant on In The Bedroom (2001), and as associate producer on Little Children (2006).

He met his future wife Kersti on the set of the 1977 film Terror of Frankenstein, in which he appeared as Victor Frankenstein and she worked as costume designer.

Two of his three children, Vera and Max, also work in the film industry.

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