It has been announced to the public that actor Nicol Williamson died on December 16th, 2011, from esophageal cancer. Williamson was a mercurial actor who brought a tempestuous fearlessness and unpredictability to his many roles. While he starred in high-profile films like Robin and Marian, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and The Exorcist III, he is perhaps best known for playing Merlin in John Boorman’s Excalibur. A retelling of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, the film was praised for its visuals, was a modest box-office hit, and went on to become a cult favorite in the decades since. For many, Williamson as the mischievous (and dangerous) magician Merlin and Dame Helen Mirren as the ambitious power-hungry Morgana served as the true creative and emotional heart of the film.
“He was the most honest, funny and intelligent man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing; he was my father and words cannot adequately express how proud I am of him. […] If anyone would like to express their love or appreciation of Nicol, I would ask them to make a donation in his name -however small- to a charity for children suffering from cancer or other life threatening illnesses. […] Dad will live in the memory of all those who knew him, all those who were affected by a performance of his they saw, and all those he made laugh until they couldn’t breathe. I love you Dad. Good game, sir, good game.” – Luke Williamson
It is no overstatement to say that Williamson shaped our conceptions of Merlin for an entire generation, and shaped the consciousnesses of more than a few modern Pagans. The performances of Williamson and Mirren, coupled with Boorman’s symphonic direction, had a huge impression on me as a kid watching and rewatching the film on VHS and cable television. He became for me, and I suspect for others, the image of Merlin in their minds.
Farewell Mr. Williamson, you, and your Merlin, live on in our dreams.