Alan Howard as Richard II in 1980
Alan Howard as Richard II in 1980
© Reg Wilson / RSC

Actor Alan Howard, a longtime member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, has died aged 77.

Howard, who also played a series of roles at the National Theatre and in the West End, was labelled a "great spirit" by RSC artistic director Gregory Doran.

Doran said: "It is with great regret that we have heard of the death of Alan Howard. Alan was a giant. He was gifted with a great classical physique, a prodigious talent and an utterly unmistakable voice."

Howard's notable stage credits including Macbeth at the National and Lear at the Old Vic. But, said Doran, the RSC was his "spiritual home".

"Alan Howard's work with Terry Hands was one of the great theatre partnerships in RSC history," he added, "and one of those theatre partnerships which has made the RSC great."

Hands, whose collaborations with Howard included Henry V, the Henry VI trilogy, Coriolanus and Richard II, said today: "Alan was an RSC icon - a great classical actor in the line of Olivier, Redgrave, Scofield. I have lost a brother."

Howard also played Oberon/Theseus in Peter Brook's landmark 1970 staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and starred opposite Glenda Jackson in Brook's 1978 production of Antony and Cleopatra.

WhatsOnStage's Michael Coveney wrote in 2012: "He was an actor we tended to take, and still take, for granted, and his stage appearances these days are so rare - Tiresias in Oedipus at the National, Sir Peter Teazle in The School for Scandal at the Barbican - that they have acquired the value of gold dust in the enveloping gloom."

Helen Mirren, who was a member of the RSC at the same time as Howard, said: "Alan Howard was a member of a very small group of actors who could truly be called a great classical actor. I do not know of another actor who could re-invent a line of Shakespeare time and time again with imagination and intelligence the way he could... He is a huge loss to British Theatre."

Howard's health had declined in recent months and he died on 14 February after contracting a bout of pneumonia in January. His wife Sally and his son James were at his side.