Louis Mahoney: Trailblazing actor and activist dies at 81

Actor Louis Mahoney, who appeared in films like Cry Freedom and TV shows Fawlty Towers and Doctor Who, has died at the age of 81. Early in his career, Mahoney was one of the first black actors in the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s.

He also helped found Performers Against Racism in the 1980s to campaign against apartheid in South Africa. And he worked as part of the Equity union to improve the representation of non-white actors on British TV.

A statement from his agents Waring and McKenna said: “Louis paved the way for many actors who followed: a lifelong activist and champion of anti-racism. Mahoney was born in The Gambia and moved to the UK in 1957 to study medicine, but decided in the 60s that his future lay in acting.

His roles included the doctor in the 1975 Fawlty Towers episode The Germans, which was in the news recently when it was removed from a streaming service. He also appeared in a string of Doctor Who episodes and TV shows like Runaway Bay, Harbour Lights and Oscar Charlie. Earlier this year, he was seen in BBC One’s The Split.

His film credits included Richard Attenborough’s 1987 drama Cry Freedom, plus 1981 Omen sequel The Final Conflict and 2013’s Captain Phillips. He also remained a regular performer on stage.

As chairman of Equity’s Afro-Asian Committee, he tried to persuade broadcasters and drama schools to reform their attitudes to overcome what he described as “big hurdles to be jumped by anybody who was non-white”.

London’s Royal Court theatre remembered him as “a brilliant actor and the most wonderful human being; a devoted activist and extraordinary performer”.

Scriptwriter Jack Thorne said: “Louis Mahoney was one of those actors who could carry a whole world through his eyes. Perhaps because he led such an extraordinary life.”