For a short fellow, Dudley Moore had a great gift for making it big. Over a career than spanned more than 40 years, Moore managed to arrive, with a splash, several times -- as an ensemble comedian, as half of one of the wickedest comic duos ever to come out of Britain, as a movie star and, in his later years, as a respected musician.
Moore died today in his home in New Jersey after a long struggle with progressive supranuclear palsy, a form of Parkinson's disease. He was 66.
Moore often said that being 5-foot-2 and working class, and being born with a deformed left foot, he was driven to comedy by feelings of inferiority. If so, his was a drive that kept him coming back for more.
A native of Dagenham, England, Moore first gained fame as a member of the Beyond the Fringe comic revue of the early 1960s. As the sweet and musically gifted member of the quartet that included the towering and biting Peter Cook, as well as future playwright Alan Bennet and future opera producer Jonathan Miller, he took first London and then Broadway by storm.
Later, paired with Cook, he starred on British TV and then in the classic film satires, The Wrong Box (1966) and Bedazzled (1967).
Years later, finally parted from Cook, Moore popped up again, in a bit part in the Chevy Chase-Goldie Hawn comedy Foul Play, as a hilariously randy orchestra conductor (1978). That set the then-43 year-old has-been on the path to 10 (1979), the ultimate male midlife crisis comedy.
His 10 co-star, Bo Derek, told Reuters that Moore's stature didn't hurt his sex appeal.
"You just wanted to be next to him, you wanted to hold him, you wanted to be held by him," she said. "He had an amazing quality that obviously came from his eyes and his heart."
The film that Moore is most famous for, 1981's Arthur, followed 10. Moore portrayed a rich and hilariously drunken playboy who falls for a working-class shoplifter, played by Liza Minnelli. The lines were corny. Moore was upstaged by Sir John Gielgud, who played his butler and who won the best-supporting-actor Oscar. But no drunk was ever funnier than Arthur Bach.
Susan: "A real woman could stop you from drinking."
Arthur: "It'd have to be a real big woman!"
The movie was a smash. He was named Male Star of the Year by the National Association of Theater Owners in 1983.
Though Moore remained a star for few more years, he chose too many bad films such as Santa Claus, the Movie, to maintain his status in Hollywood.
There is often a sadness in the greatest comedians, and for Moore, that off-stage melancholy manifested itself in his relationships. Moore was married four times, and among those wives were actresses Suzy Kendall and Tuesday Weld. The very tall, very blond Susan Anton shared his life during his peak years, the early 1980s. Weld gave birth to Moore's son, Patrick, in 1976 and Nicole Rothschild gave birth to another son, Nicholas, in 1995. Rothschild accused Moore of abuse when she divorced him in 1996.
It was after his film career had faded that Moore's last bout of fame hit him. People started noticing his piano playing. Paired with jazz singers such as Barbara Cook, and with the world's orchestras, Moore released several well-received albums in the '80s and '90s. He co-starred in a popular British series on the concert orchestra with Sir Georg Solti.
His disease -- which destroys nerves and the nervous system and affects coordination -- was revealed in 1999, and in a 2000 BBC interview Moore said the worst of it was not being able to play the piano.
"Music is my main comfort," he said then. "But it is difficult to know that all the keys are there to be played and I can't play them."
Moore made just over 30 films. He earned an Oscar nomination for Arthur, and won a couple of Tonys, for Beyond the Fringe and Good Evening, a 1974 show he did with Peter Cook. The recording of the show also won them a Grammy. He also won two Golden Globes, for Arthur and 1984's Micki and Maude.
He was named a Commander of the British Empire last November.
Sentinel staff writer Robyn Suriano contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times