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Gap-Toothed Comic Actor Terry-Thomas Dead at 78

January 8, 1990

LONDON (AP) _ Terry-Thomas, the consummate upper-class rotter in dozens of film comedies, including ″It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,″ died Monday at age 78, after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

The actor, whose trademarks were a gap between his upper front teeth, a well-brushed mustache and a long cigarette holder, died at a nursing home in Godalming, Surrey, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Society.

On screen ″he was a terrific cad. He was the ultimate cad,″ said actor Nigel Havers.

″He was the last of the great gentlemen on the cinema along with, in my experience, people like Fred Astaire and David Niven,″ said Lionel Jeffries, who appeared with Terry-Thomas in ″Rocket to the Moon″ in 1967.

Terry-Thomas had been diagnosed as having the degenerative muscle disease in 1971 and had not appeared in films since ″The Hound of the Baskervilles″ in 1978.

The cost of his care eventually forced him to sell his luxurious home on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. In London, he lived in an apartment provided by a charity.

The star of films including ″I’m All Right, Jack″ and ″It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,″ had been too ill to attend a benefit in his honor in London last April, which raised $51,000 for his care.

In films, Terry-Thomas was often the upper-class cad or silly ass murmuring ″jolly good show,″ as in his role as Sir Percy in ″Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.″

He once denied that he was ″typically English.″

″That makes me a bit of a sham I suppose. Because as you know I have made all my money, or most of it anyway, by sending up pompous Englishmen,″ he said.

He was born Thomas Terry Hoar Stevens on July 14, 1911 and took his first two names for stage use until too many people thought he was related to actress Ellen Terry.

He got his start in the theater in an amateur dramatic society associated with the Union Cold Storage Co., where he was a meat salesman. Even then, his appearance was splendid: a cigarette holder, a silver-topped Malacca cane, suede shoes and yellow leather gloves were part of the ensemble.

″I felt that my impeccable appearance more than compensated for my habitual late arrival at the office,″ he wrote in his book, ″Filling the Gap.″

His first film appearance was in ″Helter Skelter″ in 1949.

Terry-Thomas’ career took off in 1956 with the role of a commanding officer in the farce ″Privates Progress,″ which required him to handle such lines as ″You’re an absolute shower.″

He appeared in ″The Green Man″ the same year and then in 1957 teamed with Ian Carmichael in ″Brothers in Law″ and ″Lucky Jim.″

In 1958, he appeared with Peter Sellers in ″Tom Thumb″ for MGM and in the British spoof ″Carlton Brown at the F.O.″

Terry-Thomas played the fatuous factory personnel manager to Sellers’ communist shop steward in ″I’m All Right, Jack″ in 1959.

Terry-Thomas’ first marriage, to ballet dancer Ida Patlanski, ended in divorce in 1962.

A year later he married Belinda Cunningham, who was 27 years younger, and they had two sons, Tiger and Cushan.

In an interview in 1984, Terry-Thomas was resigned about his illness.

″It’s no good asking why this had to happen to me,″ he said. ″There aren’t any answers. The only thing we know definitely is that things get worse. There is no way of improving. You ask me how it feels ... there is a whole plethora of symptoms. Now I have said that ... other times I cannot say the simplest possible word, like lavatory paper.″

He is survived his wife and his two sons.

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