Daniel O’Herlihy, 85; Irish Actor Was a Best Actor Oscar Nominee

Times Staff Writer

Daniel O’Herlihy, the Irish-born actor whose six-decade career included an Oscar nomination for his starring role in Luis Bunuel’s “The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,” has died. He was 85.

O’Herlihy died of natural causes Thursday at his home in Malibu, said his daughter, Olwen O’Herlihy Dowling.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Feb. 23, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 23, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
O’Herlihy obituary -- The obituary of actor Daniel O’Herlihy in Saturday’s California section misspelled the name of Daniel Defoe, writer of the novel on which the film “The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” was based, as Dafoe.

A native of Wexford, O’Herlihy earned a degree in architecture from the National University of Ireland in 1945 but gave up on architecture soon after graduating to pursue a career in acting.


As a university student, he had earned extra money doing bit parts at the Abbey and Gate theaters in Dublin. It was at the Abbey Theater that renowned British director Carol Reed spotted him in a small role and cast him in the 1947 political thriller “Odd Man Out,” starring James Mason.

After moving to Hollywood, O’Herlihy worked with Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre, playing Macduff in the stage and screen versions of “Macbeth,” starring Welles. A supporting role in “Kidnapped,” starring Roddy McDowall, and other films followed.

But it was the role as Macduff that later brought O’Herlihy the lead in the “The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,” the 1954 film version of Daniel Dafoe’s classic novel.

“Bunuel was forced to look at the Shakespeare play because producers wanted Orson to play Crusoe,” O’Herlihy told the London Guardian in 1990.

“Bunuel said he’s too big and too fat. Anyway, Bunuel sat down and I came on as Macduff and I was on the next plane to Mexico,” where both English and Spanish versions of the film were shot.

At the time of his best actor Oscar nomination, O’Herlihy was co-owner of the Hollywood Repertory Theater, whose productions were produced by O’Herlihy and directed by co-owner Charles Davis.


“He was the ultimate professional,” Davis, who first knew O’Herlihy when they were boys in Ireland, said Friday. “He was devoted to acting. I think he loved the theater even more than movies, but he made his name and fame in the movies.”

After his strong performance as Crusoe, O’Herlihy focused on character parts in films, including playing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in “MacArthur,” a cyborg-firm executive in “RoboCop” and a benign lizard-like alien in “The Last Starfighter.”

His other film credits include “Imitation of Life,” “Home Before Dark,” “The Tamarind Seed,” “Fail-Safe” and “Waterloo.”

“I think he was an extremely good actor,” film critic and historian Richard Schickel said Friday. “He had a sort of grandeur about him; he was not a shy, retiring actor. He’s a guy who really took the screen, and he was often a kind of noble presence in his roles.”

O’Herlihy appeared in more than 70 plays at the Abbey and Gate theaters, including the lead in the original production of Sean O’Casey’s “Red Roses for Me,” and the world premieres of “The Last Hero” and “A Better Place.” Among his American theater credits are John Houseman’s “Measure for Measure” in Los Angeles, and “King Lear” at the Houston Shakespeare Festival.

On television, he played Doc McPheeters opposite Kurt Russell in the 1963-64 western series “The Travels of Jamie McPheeters,” and had recurring roles in “The Long, Hot Summer” (1965) and “Twin Peaks” (1990).


O’Herlihy, who starred in the title role in the 1979 PBS production “Mark Twain: Beneath the Laughter,” was last seen as Joseph Kennedy in the 1998 TV movie “The Rat Pack.”

His late brother was film and television director Michael O’Herlihy.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Elsie; five children, Olwen O’Herlihy Dowling, Patricia O’Herlihy Wisda, Gavan O’Herlihy, Cormac O’Herlihy and Lorcan O’Herlihy; 10 grandchildren; and a great grandson.

A private family service will be held in Malibu. Burial will be in Wexford.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Actors Fund of America, 5757 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90036.