Versatile actor whose career spanned almost 60 years

Kevin O’Connor: April 25th, 1930 - May 24th, 2014

Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 02:00

Kevin O’Connor, who has died aged 84, and who was known to the worlds of stage, screen and television by his stage name of Conor Evans, was an Irish actor with a wide range of performing abilities who played a huge variety of characters over a career spanning nearly 60 years.

Acting professionally for the first time in the Dublin of the late 1950s, he was one of the last links to the world of the Gate Theatre of Michael Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards, to the latter of whom he was particularly close.

At Edwards’s funeral over 30 years ago at University Church on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, he was one of the readers of the prayers of the faithful: Christopher Fitz-Simon, in his history of the Gate, The Boys, recalled how, on leaving the service, Evans turned to his wife, the actress Claire Mullen, and remarked that “Hilton opened my eyes” as an actor and reader of drama.

Edwards directed Evans throughout the 1960s and 70s, in plays by Shaw, Shakespeare, Farquhar, Sheridan and Peter Shaffer. Famously, Evans played opposite Des Nealon in a Dublin Theatre Festival production of Proxopera, an adaptation by Peter Luke of Ben Kiely’s novella, when the stage set fell down on the opening night. After repairs, the show played successfully for six weeks. With Maureen Potter Evans worked consistently throughout this period also at the Abbey, with Phyllis Ryan’s Gemini Productions, at the Gaiety under Eamonn Andrews’s direction and in several Maureen Potter shows.

Tall, with an athletic build honed by his rugby-playing teenage years at Blackrock College, Evans featured extensively in film and television from the early 1960s onwards, notably in Huston’s Sinful Davy and Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, where he played the Count of Austerlitz in atmospheric scenes filmed entirely by candlelight.

Later film work included Jackie Chan’s Highbinders, a judge in Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s Ordinary Decent Criminal, opposite Kevin Spacey and Peter Mullan in Tony Bill’s version of Oliver and as Ernie in Stephen Frears’s film of Roddy Doyle’s The Snapper.

A generation of Irish children knew him as the garda in Wanderly Wagon, and other television included roles in Bachelor’s Walk and Father Ted (as the Italian priest Fr Romeo Sensini). Stage name Evans, who used his stage name to avoid confusion with the journalist and dramatist Kevin O’Connor, was born in Dún Laoghaire in 1930, one of three sons (Anthony, Eric and himself) and a daughter, Joyce, of Sam (SJ) O’Connor, a self-made entrepreneur whose varied career included time as a variety artiste, and his wife Ethel, (née Pattenden).

After Blackrock, he studied medicine briefly and worked as a salesman before taking up acting with the Brendan Smith Academy under the influence of his sister, to whom he was devoted.

He is survived by his widow, Claire, brother Eric, three daughters, Lesley-Ann, Michelle and Christine, and grandchildren.