Obituaries : Jeremy Brett; TV Series' Sherlock Holmes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jeremy Brett, the accomplished British actor who will go down in history as the best-remembered Sherlock Holmes because of his long-running "Mystery!" television series about the sleuth, has died. He was 59.

Granada Television, which produces the series for Masterpiece Theater, announced Wednesday that Brett had died in his sleep Tuesday in his London home, apparently of heart failure.

Brett had appeared in 41 episodes in a planned series to reconstruct all 60 of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's tales about the fictional detective with apartments at nonexistent 221-B Baker Street.

"I was very nervous when I was offered the part," Brett told The Times in 1991 during a visit to Los Angeles PBS station KCET, which airs the series, "because I was so miscast. I'd played so many romantic heroes. I'm just grateful that it's acceptable. I suppose the ultimate accolade has been from the Sherlock Holmes societies and the Doylean societies. If I'd failed with them it would have been a total disaster."

Brett was also reluctant to take the role because he did not like the character and felt it had been done too many times. Nevertheless, he opted to follow the portrayals of Holmes by such actors as William Gillette, John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Nicol Williamson and Christopher Plummer--and earned the accolades of critics as "the best Sherlock Holmes ever."

Brett was one of the few actors to play both Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson. The actor appeared as Watson, opposite Charlton Heston as Holmes, in the Ahmanson Theater production of "The Crucifer of Blood" in 1980.

"I adored playing Watson," Brett told The Times later. "I played him like Winnie the Pooh."

Born Peter Jeremy Huggins, the actor was educated at Eton and the prestigious Central School of Drama in London. When he took up acting, his father, an army colonel, asked him to change his name.

Working on stage with England's National Theater and on television, Brett played Hamlet and Dracula, Max de Winter in "Rebecca" and Robert Browning in "The Barretts of Wimpole Street."

On film, he was memorable as Liza's suitor, Freddie, in "My Fair Lady" and as Natasha's brother in "War and Peace."

Brett was divorced in 1963 from his first wife, actress Anna Massey, with whom he had a son, David. His second wife, Joan Wilson, a "Mystery!" producer, died in 1985.

His last series as Sherlock Holmes will air on PBS beginning Jan. 4.

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