Warner died from a “cancer-related illness,” his family said in a statement shared by his talent agency with CNN. He’d been sick for 18 months, his family wrote, and “approached his diagnosis with a characteristic grace and dignity.”
His was a prolific career that spanned more than 50 years, from horror classics to Oscar winners; from beloved animated series to a Disney musical. There was hardly a genre of film he didn’t leave a mark on, he acknowledged in a 2017 interview with the AV Club.
“I’ve done war pictures, I’ve done Westerns, I’ve done sci-fi … I mean, I wasn’t in ‘Harry Potter,’ and I wasn’t in ‘Lord Of The Rings,’ and I haven’t been in ‘Game Of Thrones,'” he told the AV Club. “So there are those big ones that I haven’t managed to do. But that’s show biz … and, you know, I think I’ve still done okay.”
A career spanning Shakespeare, horror and a best picture winner
Warner began his career onstage after studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He starred in several productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing as the title roles in “Richard II” and “Hamlet.” He also appeared in the 1968 film adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” alongside Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Diana Rigg.
Though he often played Shakespearean heroes onstage, in films, he was often cast as the antagonist. In Disney’s landmark sci-fi flick “Tron,” he played a power-hungry executive who passed off Jeff Bridges’ ideas as his own. In “Titanic,” he conspired with Billy Zane’s antagonist to keep the central lovebirds apart as the deliciously named Spicer Lovejoy. And in Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits,” Warner quite literally played the role of “Evil.”
Some of Warner’s most enduring roles saw him play the second banana: In “The Omen,” he wasn’t the villain but the victim, portraying a photographer threatened by the demonic child Damien. He also appeared in three of director Sam Peckinpah’s films, including the World War II ensemble film “Cross of Iron.”
When he could, Warner played against type, appearing as Ebenezer Scrooge’s sympathetic employee Bob Cratchit in a TV movie of “A Christmas Carol.” He acted in two “Star Trek” films, including one appearance as a Klingon. In his last film role, he played eccentric military veteran Admiral Boom, who regularly fires cannons to mark the time, in “Mary Poppins Returns.”
He also lent his voice to animated productions, like “Batman: The Animated Series” (as Ra’s al Ghul) and “The Amazing World of Gumball.” He said in 2017 appearing in “kids pictures,” like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II,” was “great fun.” He also mentioned his “utmost respect for the actors in the turtle suits.”
Despite his prolific career, Warner often regarded his legacy with a lightheartedness. In the 2017 AV Club interview, Warner said that as a young person, he was “hopeless” both academically and athletically, and so he “drifted into the odd school play.”
“I’m the kind of actor where you go around, you do your best, and you see what happens,” he told the AV Club.
David Warner remembered
Lin-Manuel Miranda, who starred with Warner in “Mary Poppins Returns,” shared a photo of himself with the late actor.
“So glad to have been able to express my admiration for David Warner’s incredible versatility and career in our time together on set,” Miranda wrote on Twitter. “My goodness, what a life and legacy.”
The Royal Shakespeare Company remembered Warner as he was in 1965, when he played Hamlet as a “tortured student in his long orange scarf.”
“David seemed the epitome of 1960s youth, and caught the radical spirit of a turbulent age,” said the company’s artistic director emeritus Gregory Doran. “He was a generous spirit, a kind man, and a huge talent.”
Warner is survived by his partner Lisa Bowerman, son Luke and his “many gold dust friends,” among others, his family wrote in their statement.
“He will be missed hugely by us, his family and friends, and remembered as a kind-hearted, generous and compassionate man, partner and father whose legacy of extraordinary work has touched the lives of so many over the years,” his family said.