Peter Dennis, a British actor who toured for decades in his one-man show of readings from “Winnie-the-Pooh” and other A.A. Milne classics, died April 18 of cancer at his Shadow Hills home, said his wife, Diane. He was 75.
Dennis was 36 before he discovered the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood when a girlfriend took him to a London exhibit of the works of Milne illustrator Ernest H. Shepard. With a convert’s zeal, Dennis was soon essentially performing Milne for dinner guests.
To mark Pooh’s 50th birthday in 1976, Dennis gave an impromptu late-night reading at Cambridge University and was stunned to perform before a packed house.
His show, “Bother!” -- named for a favorite exclamation by Pooh -- was born. Dennis would perform it in more than 100 venues in the United States and Europe, including the Hollywood Bowl and Westminster Palace in London.
In addition to “Winnie-the-Pooh” (1926), Dennis drew from “The House at Pooh Corner” (1928) and the poetry volumes “When We Were Very Young” (1924) and “Now We Are Six” (1926).
Just as Milne had, the actor bristled at the notion that the books were aimed at children.
“Pooh and his friends in the forest show the whole of humanity,” Dennis told the Tampa Tribune in 1997.
When the show debuted in the U.S. in 1986 at Stage Lee Strasberg in West Hollywood, The Times called it “charming and whimsically absurd.”
By zeroing in on a prominent trait -- say, Piglet’s skittish grunts or Eeyore’s slack-jawed melancholia -- Dennis “uncannily” evoked each character, Sylvie Drake, then The Times’ theater critic, wrote in 1987.
Actor Charlton Heston became a friend after seeing “Bother!” in 1987 at the Coronet Theatre in West Hollywood. Heston introduced himself backstage by saying, “I’m Tigger and this is my wife, Piglet,” Diane Dennis recalled.
“There was Moses reflected in my mirror,” Peter Dennis said in The Times last year. “He wrapped his arms around me and said it was the most wonderful evening he had ever spent in the theater.”
Peter John Dennis was born Oct. 25, 1933, in Dorking, England, to Michael Henry Dennis and the former Violet Frances Lockwood.
Growing up in a working-class family during World War II, Dennis once recalled a “joyless childhood” devoid of books. He left school at 14 and trained as a surveyor and accountant. Drafted at 19 into the British military, he served for six years.
At 29, he saw his first play, “Look Back in Anger” with Derek Jacobi, and knew he wanted to act, Dennis later recalled. He immediately resigned as a personal assistant at a steel firm to take small acting parts in a Birmingham, England, theater.
Three years later, he graduated from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and began regularly appearing in British stage, film and television productions.
In 1991, Dennis moved to the Los Angeles area and had guest roles on dozens of TV shows, including the final episode of “ER.” He also worked on the films “Sideways” (2004) and “Shrek” (2001).
When presenting the unscripted “Bother!” Dennis was never sure how he would fill his 90 minutes of Milne but invariably began, “Wherever I am, there is always Pooh.”
With his first wife, from whom he was divorced, Dennis had a son, Shane, who died in his late 30s in 1994, the unintended victim of a drive-by shooting in St. Louis, said Diane Dennis.
In addition to Diane, his wife of 30 years, Dennis is survived by a brother, Michael, of England, and a sister, Dorothy Barker of New Zealand.