Niall Toibin, Veteran Irish Actor, Dies at 89

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Niall Toibin

He starred on the stage as writer Brendan Behan and appeared on the big screen in 'Ryan's Daughter' and 'Far and Away.'

Niall Toibin, the Irish veteran of stage and screen who appeared in films directed by David Lean, Ron Howard and Joel Schumacher, died Wednesday in Dublin. He was 89.

Toibin starred as famed Irish writer Brendan Behan in a 1967 stage version of Behan's Borstal Boy at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and shared a Drama Desk Award for his performance after it moved to Broadway in 1970 and won the Tony for best play. It was a role he returned to in seven other productions during his long career.

Toibin also appeared for Lean in Ryan's Daughter (1970), starring Robert Mitchum; for Howard in Far and Away (1992), starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman; and for Schumacher in Veronica Guerin (2003), starring Cate Blanchett. 

His film résumé also included Poitín (1978), Eat the Peach (1986) and The Ballroom of Romance (1986)

Toibin portrayed the boozy Slipper on the Channel 4 series The Irish R.M. and starred on the Irish soap opera Bracken with Gabriel Byrne and in the 1981 miniseries Brideshead Revisited alongside Jeremy Irons.

"The depth of interpretation that he brought to a wide variety of characters showed a very deep intellectual understanding and, above all, sensitivity to the nuance of Irish life," Ireland president Michael Higgins said.

The Irish Film and Television Academy honored Toibin with a lifetime achievement award in 2011.

Born one of seven children on Nov. 21, 1929, in County Cork, Ireland, the colorful Toibin spent 14 years with the Radio Éireann Players in Dublin before joining the Abbey Theatre. The title of his 1995 memoir, Smile and Be a Villain, was taken from Hamlet.

"Most of the material is my own, stolen from the plain people of Ireland, re-sprayed, re-molded, re-bored and given false number plates," he once said.

Toibin was married to Judy Kenny from 1957 until her 2002 death and is survived by children Sean, Muireann, Aisling, Sighle and Fiana and seven grandchildren.

9:40 p.m. A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Toibin won a Tony for Borstal Boy. He shared a Drama Desk Award, and Borstal Boy won the Tony for best play.