Williams and Dench had one of the most enduring marriages in theatre, spanning 30 years. They met in the early 1960s while both working at the Royal Shakespeare Company, but they did not marry until 1971, nearly a decade later. Many of Williams’ roles were opposite his wife. On stage, they appeared together in successful plays such as Pack of Lies (1983) and Mr and Mrs Nobody (1986). He is best-known for the long-running 1980s television series, A Fine Romance, in which he and Dench played middle-aged lovers.
Despite the strong association with Dench, Williams was a talented and respected actor in his own right. He made his stage debut at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1959 and was an Associate Artist of the RSC, where he served 14 years. Most recently, he starred as John Aubrey in the one-man show Brief Lives (1998 at the Duchess), one of his rare solo performances, and in last year’s production of Ostrovsky’s The Forest at the National. For the latter, he earned an Olivier nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Though his wife’s career eclipsed his own – he won no major awards while she won every one going including BAFTAs, Oliviers, Tonys, a Golden Globe and an Oscar – Williams never begrudged Dench her success and was always the first to praise her towering talent. The romance also never seemed to wane. Every Friday throughout their life together, Williams sent a red rose to Dench, wherever she was in the world.
Williams, a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. At the time, Dench was appearing in David Hare’s Amy’s View on Broadway but flew back from New York to be with him. Over the past year, she cancelled contracts and official engagements to be with him.
In addition to acting, religion was an important facet in Williams’ life. Recently, he was made a Knight of St Gregory, one of the highest honours awarded by the Catholic Church. He was celebrating the knighthood last Wednesday and said that evening “It was one of the best day I have ever had”. Williams died peacefully the next day “surrounded by his family and friends”. He is survived by Dench and their actress daughter, Finty Williams.