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Heath, Gordon (1918-1991)


Main image of Heath, Gordon (1918-1991)

Born in New York, USA in 1918, Gordon Heath came to London in 1947 to star in a West End production of Deep are the Roots, a role which he had performed to great success on New York's Broadway, directed by Elia Kazan. When the play was adapted for television in 1950, Heath again played the lead role. In 1950, he played Othello in a touring Kenneth Tynan production and in 1955 played the character again in Tony Richardson's BBC television version.

Despite extraordinary good looks and glowing reviews for his stage work, Heath played only a few roles on television and film: for example a dandy in Sapphire (d. Basil Dearden, 1959), a coroner in Passionate Summer (d. Rudolph Cartier, 1958) and a folk singer in The Mad Woman of Chaillot (d. Bryan Forbes, 1969). Racism was a factor but so was his overt homosexuality, in an age when this was taboo.

Heath settled in Paris in 1948 where he and his partner Lee Payant, also an American actor, owned the Left-Bank nightclub, L'Abbaye (The Abbey). It was here that Heath achieved his greatest recognition as an entertainer and folk singer. For nearly 30 years he and Pavant performed American and French folk songs and recorded several albums.

In December 1976 Payant died of cancer aged 52. Devastated by his loss, Heath returned to the United States. However, five years later he returned to Europe. Heath died in Paris on 28 August 1991 of an AIDS-related illness.

Ann Ogidi

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