Michael Gough, played butler in 'Batman' movies, dies at 94

Dennis Hevesi / New York Times News Service /


Published Mar 21, 2011 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Michael Gough, the lithe, angular-faced British character actor best known for his role as Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s trusted butler in four “Batman” movies, died Thursday at his home in England. He was 94.

His grandson Dickon Gough confirmed the death.

Gough played the long-suffering, ever-available Alfred alongside Michael Keaton in “Batman” (1989) and “Batman Returns” (1992), then reprised the role opposite Val Kilmer in “Batman Forever” (1995) and again in “Batman&Robin” (1997), with George Clooney as his caped boss.

But in an acting career that spanned seven decades, Gough also had roles in more than 150 movies, television shows and stage productions.

In 1979, he won a Tony Award for best featured actor in the comedy “Bedroom Farce,” in which he played one of the husbands in three couples who are too beset by doubts and self-complication to have time for anything as straightforward as sex. Last year, he supplied the voice of the Dodo Bird in the Tim Burton movie “Alice in Wonderland.”

Gough could bring two essentially different acting styles to his range of roles. In productions like “Henry VIII and His Six Wives” (1972), his portrayal of the Duke of Norfolk was subtle and restrained. In horror movies like “Black Zoo” (1962), he was eye-bulgingly terrifying.

Gough played Dillwyn Knox in the 1987 Broadway production of “Breaking the Code,” based on the true story of Alan Turing, a mathematician recruited by the British government during World War II to help crack the Nazis’ Enigma code. After the war, Turing, who was gay, was prosecuted for “gross indecency.” To avoid imprisonment, he accepted chemical castration. Gough played the part of Turing’s supervisor.

In a New York Times review of the play, Frank Rich wrote that Gough “is one of those remarkable English character actors who should be much better known to American audiences,” adding, “There is fine, supple Chekhovian detail to his every small gesture, from his slow-dawning owlish smiles to the buttoning of his ill-fitting tweed jacket to the revealing tentativeness with which he fingers through a personnel file.”

Gough was born on Nov. 23, 1916, in what is now Malaysia, to British parents. He attended an agricultural college in England, but not for long. “Probably the reason I’m an actor is that you don’t have to pass examinations,” he said in 1988. “I was hopeless in school, I never passed a single exam.”