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Michael Gambon says memory loss caused Habit of Art withdrawal

Michael Gambon has revealed that problems with his memory caused him to withdraw from Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art in 2009

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Michael Gambon in Eh Joe

Michael Gambon, currently appearing as the silent title character in Samuel Beckett's one-man play Eh Joe at the Edinburgh International Festival, has spoken for the first time about his decision to withdraw from Alan Bennett play The Habit of Art in 2009.

The 72-year-old actor blamed the decision at the time on "ill health", and has now revealed that he had to be hospitalised during rehearsals at the National Theatre.

"I think it's linked to the memory", he told The Times. "It was a really major, big part. I think I got so frightened that I collapsed. They did all sorts of tests of me and they couldn't find a thing."

The play, which centres on the relationship between poet WH Auden and composer Benjamin Britten, was subsequently recast with the late Richard Griffiths replacing Gambon as Auden.

"It's rather sad," Gambon said. "I couldn't do it. That is linked with what is wrong with me – overwhelming fear."

Despite these problems Gambon did return to the stage last year in an acclaimed revival of Beckett's radio play All That Fall.

"I have never admitted this before, so all these producers don't know. So I'm lucky in as much as I get away with it," he added.

He described his role in Eh Joe, in which he acts in response to a recorded voiceover (by Penelope Wilton), as "a dream".