December 4, 2009 / 2:02 PM / 10 years ago

"Dam Busters" star Richard Todd dies aged 90

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - British actor and World War Two hero Richard Todd died Thursday aged 90, British media reported Friday.

Todd was one of the first British officers to land in Normandy in advance of the main D-Day landings and then went on to become Britain’s highest-earning post-war matinee idol.

His most memorable screen role was that of Wing Commander Guy Gibson in the 1955 film “The Dam Busters.”

But the Dublin-born Todd was also a real-life hero, one of the first British soldiers to parachute into France on D-Day 11 years earlier.

A spokesman for his family said Todd died peacefully in his sleep Thursday at his home near Grantham in Lincolnshire.

The handsome, blue-eyed Todd enjoyed the unusual distinction of appearing in films about D-Day in which the role of his wartime self was played by other actors.

As an officer in the Parachute Battalion, he had not only been one of the first to land in Normandy, he had also been among the first to meet the glider force under the command of Major John Howard defending Pegasus Bridge, a scene memorably recreated in two epic films in which Todd later starred “D-Day, the Sixth of June” and “The Longest Day.”

In “The Longest Day,” Todd took the role of Howard, performing one scene opposite the actor playing himself. At $8 million, “The Longest Day” was the most expensive black and white film made until Schindler’s List.

Earlier this year, Todd celebrated his 90th birthday with a quiet gathering near his home.

“(He) had been suffering from cancer, an illness that he bore with his habitual courage and dignity,” a spokesman told the BBC. “His family were with him throughout.”

British director Michael Winner, who worked with Todd on the 1978 thriller “The Big Sleep” described him to the BBC as a splendid person and a very good actor.

“Richard Todd was the most wonderful type of British stiff upper lip acting.”

Editing by Jon Boyle

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