The Welsh-born star rose to prominence in Joan Littlewood's productions of Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be (1959) and Oh! What a Lovely War (1961), winning a Tony Award when the latter transferred to Broadway.
He found international fame in the 1960s when he appeared in three films with his friends The Beatles (A Hard Day's Night, Help! and Magical Mystery Tour), and went on to star in over 30 films including Under Milk Wood with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Becket, The Return of the Pink Panther and The Krays.
In the West End his acting credits included Candide, The Odd Couple and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and he appeared in several productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He toured regularly with his one man shows and as recently as 2011 appeared in a touring production of spoof whodunit Murdered to Death.
He was also a prolific director, with myriad credits including international productions of musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, and the premiere of John Lennon: In His Own Write at the National Theatre.
Tributes have poured in from former co-stars. Barbara Windsor, who saw him shortly before his death yesterday (18 June 2012), called him a “great man”. Michael Ball tweeted his condolences, calling Spinetti “one of the kindest, funniest, most generous people in this business”.
Whatsonstage.com chief critic Michael Coveney said he was a "witty, voluble, talented and very funny" actor, who was held in "great affection by the industry".
Spinetti’s agent, Barry Burnett, said today: “He had cancer for a year, but he was very cheerful to the end. I spoke to him on Friday and he was talking about his plans and everything.”