LONDON (AP) _ Donald Pleasence, who breathed life into a series of odd and sinister characters on stage and screen, died early Thursday, aged 75.

His agent Tessa Sutherland said the actor, who had surgery to replace a heart valve replaced shortly before Christmas, died at his home at St. Paul de Vence in the south of France.

``It was very unexpected. We talked to him last night and he seemed well,'' Ms. Sutherland said. She did not know the cause of death.

Uncannily able to be both menacing and menaced, Pleasence began his dramatic life on the stage, later building a solid screen career with nearly 100 film roles and dozens of television productions.

Born in the central English town of Worksop, Pleasence grew up in the grimy northern industrial city of Sheffield.

At the age of 18, he left his first job as a railway station clerk, telling the station master he was off to become an actor.

Lacking any formal training, he joined one of England's many repertory companies, making his stage debut at the Playhouse, Jersey, in May 1939, with a performance as Hareton in ``Wuthering Heights.''

His first appearance on the London boards was as Valentine in ``Twelfth Night,'' at the Arts theater in June 1942.

Serving with the Royal Air Force during World War II, he was shot down in 1944 and spent the last year of the war in a German prison camp.

After the war, he auditioned for the young director Peter Brook and got a part in a stage adaption of Dostoevsky's ``The Brothers Karamazov'' with Alec Guinness, with whom he would later star in Sartre's ``Huis Clos.''

In 1951, he made his New York stage debut with Laurence Olivier's company, playing in ``Caesar and Cleopatra'' and ``Antony and Cleopatra'' at the Ziegfield theater.

Later stage performances include a season at Stratford-upon-Avon, playing the outsiders Launcelot Gobbo in ``The Merchant of Venice'' and Gumio in ``The Taming of the Shrew.''

In 1960, he won huge critical acclaim for his performance as the wheedling and malodorous tramp Davies in Harold Pinter's ``The Caretaker'' at London's Duchess theater, London, winning the London Critics' Award. He repeated the role to further praise on Broadway the following year. He reprised the role in London in 1991.

As Arthur Goldman in ``The Man in the Glass Booth'' in 1967, he won the London Variety Award for Stage Actor of the Year.

His films include ``The Great Escape,'' ``A Tale of Two Cities,'' John Osborne's ``Look Back in Anger'' and ``Soldier Blue.''

In 1991, he made his first all-French dialog film, director Pierre Schoendorffer's ``Dien Bien Phu,'' a biting examination of the legacy of French colonialism in Vietnam.

He also appeared in dozens of television productions, including ``The Millionairess,'' ``Man in a Moon'' and ``Call Me Daddy,'' for which he won an Emmy Award. He was named British television actor of the year in 1958.

In 1960, he produced his own series of suspenseful takes for television, ``Armchair Mystery Theater.''

He is survived by his fourth wife, Linda, and six daughters.

Funeral arrangements were not announced.