One of Scotland’s brightest sons was a multi-talented gay actor who sparkled on stage and screen. He sang, danced, recited poetry, played romantic roles, excelled in Shakespeare; he trail-blazed anything he embraced.
I had the fortune of seeing him on stage in After Aida were he played the young librettist Arrigo Boito grappling with the ageing composer Giuseppe Verdi. He sang an aria, creating a moment of such beauty that its intensity erased the rest of the evening from my mind.
He was a great performer, naturalistic in style and always ‘believable’, with material still available for viewing and listening, I’ll never forget him, beautifully naked, in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee, or propelled by god’s breath in the Oscar-laden film Chariots of Fire, or as the great man’s friend in Ghandi.
On stage he never shied away from any challenge: Hamlet, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Guys And Dolls, Fool For Love. He not only fitted such diverse acting roles but interpreted them in a unique and memorable fashion, even in his appearances in various TV dramas.
He was as generous in his acting as he was in life; he died of AIDS related illnesses in 1990, aged 41.
He requested that the cause of his death be made public, in those difficult days, in order to promote AIDS awareness.
In 1990, following his death, 20 of Charleson’s friends, colleagues, and family members, including Ian McKellen, Alan Bates, Hugh Hudson, Richard Eyre, Sean Mathias, Hilton McRae, and David Rintoul, contributed to a book of reminiscences about him, entitled For Ian Charleson: A Tribute, published in October 1990. All royalties from the sale of the book went to the Ian Charleson Trust, a charitable foundation that operated from 1990 to 2007.