Hailed as the ‘King of the miniseries’, Richard Chamberlain is one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors. He has starred in some iconic and powerful productions including Shogun (1980), The Thornbirds (1983), Wallenberg (1985) and the original screenplay of The Bourne Identity (1988).
Shogun was a nine-hour mini-series based on James Clavell’s best-selling novel which takes place in Japan in 1600. Richard portrayed John Blackthorne, ‘Anjin’ in Japanese which means ‘pilot’, as he was the pilot of a British ship which finds its way through a secret path to Japan, which had only been known to the Jesuits. Richard spent over six months in Japan filming the production with was filmed in epic proportions with breathtaking cinematography and great special effects. Shogun earned Richard a Golden Globe as Best Actor and an Emmy nomination.
Richard became an even bigger international heartthrob with The Thorn Birds (1983), taking home with him another Golden Globe in 1984 for Best Actor in a Mini-series or Motion Picture for TV
George Richard Chamberlain was born on March 31,1934 in Los Angeles to Elsa W and Chuck Chamberlain. Richard grew up in Beverly Hills in a single story house with his parents and his older brother Bill who was seven years his senior. Richard’s father was a well-known early Alcoholics Anonymous member, having traveled for years speaking at A.A. conventions worldwide.
Richard first wanted to become an artist but made the move to acting when he scored successfully in drama productions at Pomona College. In his senior year at Pomona he was cast as Captain Bluntschli in George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man and he brought the house down, on a college-level which led him to change career paths. After graduating from college with a bachelor's degree in arts, he was enlisted into the U.S Army where he served for 16 months in Korea and rose to the rank of sergeant.
When he returned to Los Angeles, Richard moved away from painting and decided to pursue his acting ambitions, studying under acting coach Jeff Corey. At 23 Richard co-founded Company of Angels, an outstanding Los Angeles Theatre Group. His first television appearance was a guest spot on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1959). He then began appearing in popular American TV series in a dozen guest roles such as Gunsmoke (1959), Mr Lucky (1959) and Riverboat (1960), as well as appearing in his first feature film The Secret of the Purple Reef (1960).
The role that put Richard on the map, Dr. Kildare, almost didn’t come at all. His friend George in high school whose father was a movie executive became an assistant to the man who ran MGM. George had seen his picture in a player’s book one day and had wondered what he was up to. Richard was invited to a general interview and was hired as the lead in the ill-fated western pilot, ‘Paradise Kid’.
Then in 1961 Richard got his big break when after a long search for a young doctor Kildare, George pulled the pilot from under the vault and immediately knew that Richard was perfect for the role. Dr. Kildare aired on NBC from 1961 to 1966 during which he had also starred in two feature films, Twilight of Honor (1963) with Joey Heatherton and Joy in the Morning (1965) with Yvette Mimieux.
Along with the success of his acting career, he became a successful singer with his impeccably melodious voice. He had also scored a top ten hit with a vocal version of the theme song for Kildare Three Stars Will Shine Tonight (1962) and reached #14 with a cover of All I Have To Do Is Dream (1962) and #21 with a cover of Love Me Tender (1962). In 1963 Richard won a Golden Globe for Best Male TV Star for Dr. Kildare. After Kildare however, despite being offered many roles in TV series Richard decided to have a go with acting in plays at the American Stock Repertory.
In 1966 he played opposite Mary Tyler Moore in ill-fated Broadway musical Breakfast at Tiffany’s which closed after only four previews in New York. So early in 1968 he decided to try his hand in England where he took vocal coaching. Richard portrayed Ralph Touchett in the BBC’s TV adaptation of Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady (1968), becoming recognized as a serious actor.
After that, director Richard Lester wanted him for Petulia (1968) playing alongside Julie Christie as her abusive husband. He was next cast as the romantic Frenchman with Katherine Hepburn in Bryan Forbes’ film adaptation of The Madwoman of Chaillot. Then in 1969 Richard dared to test his acting prowess on the classical stage where he played in British repertory theatre and performed the title role in Hamlet for the Birmingham Repertory. Richard had never performed Shakespeare before and was the first American actor to play Hamlet on the British stage since John Barrymore.
Richard had agreed to play Hamlet at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre with the help of the director who spent weeks with him working on the difficult parts. Richard thought that he was safe because it was in an English province and seemingly far enough away from the London critics. However, Richard discovered two days before opening night that all the critics would be traveling to Birmingham to review this TV American pretty boy interloper coming to England to play Hamlet. But despite his initial fears and inhibitions, Richard pulled it off and had received positive reviews for his performance.
Richard triumphantly played Hamlet again in a subsequent 1970 television production for Hallmark Hall of Fame. He then played in Shakespeare’s Richard II (1971) and won over British audiences with his success in TV film The Lady’s Not For Burning (1972) with Eileen Atkins.
Returning to film, Richard portrayed the cunning Octavius Caesar opposite Charlton Heston’s Mark Anthony and Jason Robard’s Brutus in Julius Caesar. He then played composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky alongside Glenda Jackson in Ken Russell’s biopic The Music Lovers (1971) and Lord Byron alongside Sarah Miles in Lady Caroline Lamb (1972).
Next he portrayed King Edward VIII alongside Faye Dunaway’s Wallis Simpson in The Woman I Love (1972). Richard portrayed the debonair, priestly though hypocritical as he was highly seductive, Aramis in The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) with Michael York, Oliver Reed, Faye Dunaway and Rachel Welch. He went on to play Roger Simmons, the main antagonist in producer Irwin Allen’s The Towering Inferno (1974). The blockbuster movie had an all-star cast with Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Fred Estaire, Jennifer Jones, Robert Wagner and O.J Simpson. Next he portrayed F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Last of the Belles (1974) opposite Susan Sarandon and Blythe Danner. He was nominated for an Emmy for his role as Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo (1975).
In 1976 Richard demonstrated his excellent acting and singing abilities as charming Prince Edward in Bryan Forbes’ musical The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella. Featuring some wonderful songs by the Sherman Brothers. Richard played alongside Gemma Craven, Kenneth More, Margaret Lockwood and Annette Crosbie.
He presented his acting versatility with such contrasting performances as Rev. Shannon in the 1976 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana and Cyrano de Bergerac. Continuing to demonstrate his acting versatility, Richard played the leading role in Norman Rosemont’s highly acclaimed television film, The Man in the Iron Mask (1977) with Sir Ralph Richardson, and he followed this with Peter Weir’s The Last Wave where he portrayed young Sydney lawyer, David Burton.
In 1978 Richard played Dr. Hubbard in his second Irwin Allen film The Swarm, a disaster horror film about a deadly African bee invasion in the United States. Also in 1978 he starred as Wild Bill Hillcock in the New York premier of Joseph Papp’s production of Thomas Babe’s Fathers and Sons at the Public Theatre. Richard also appeared on popular mini-series Centennial (1978).
Richard once again demonstrated his acting versatility in 1981 as the aggrieved Dr. Frederic Cook in the TV film Cook and Peary: The Race to the Pole. He filmed this in Canada opposite Rod Steigner as Admiral Peary.
One of Richard’s favourite roles was playing California Maverick John C. Fremont in the CBS miniseries Dream West (1986). Subsequently Richard worked for eight and a half months in Harare, Zimbabwe filming King Solomon’s Mines (1985) and the sequel Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986).
He then returned to Broadway in 1987 to play socialite and novelist Charles Condomine in Blithe Spirit alongside the late Geraldine Paige.
Richard was offered the part of Henry Higgins in the Broadway hit My Fair Lady (1993-94). He initially toured with the show around the country for eight months before opening in Broadway. About a year later, Martin Rabbett, a dear friend of Richard's, produced another production of My Fair Lady (1995-96) in Europe, touring various German cities, Zurich and Paris.
Richard then shot an independent film in Europe, Bird of Prey (1995) filmed entirely on location in Sofia, Bulgaria. He then went to Australia to film the sequel to The Thorn Birds entitled The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years (1996). That fall he did a feature film entitled River Made to Drown In, shot in Los Angeles. A year later, in the summer, he filmed a four- hour miniseries called The Lost Daughter (1997). That year, in the fall Martin co-produced a TV movie for CBS All The Winters That Have Been (1997) based on the novel by Evan Maxwell.
Following the successful productions of My Fair Lady in Broadway and in Europe, Richard was asked to take over the part of Captain von Trapp in a Broadway production of The Sound of Music (1999), followed by a national tour.
Richard was then invited to appear on guest spots on The Drew Carey Show (2002), BBC Hustle (2006), Nip/Tuck (2006) and Desperate Housewives (2007). He was also in a movie about a boxer in Cork, Ireland, Strength and Honor (2007) alongside Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones. Then he did a featured role in the successful film with Adam Sandler, Jessica Biel, Kevin James and Rob Schneider I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007). Richard also played King Arthur on the national tour of the musical Spamalot (2008-2009). The following year Richard appeared on an episode in Leverage (2010) and on Chuck (2010). He also appeared on several episodes of Brothers & Sisters (2010 and 2011). Also in 2011 he appeared in independent film We Are The Hartmans (2011) and comedy/drama The Perfect Family (2011). This was followed by his role as Dr. Sloper in Pasadena Playhouse’s musical The Heiress (2012).
Richard has more recently enjoyed featured roles as Bill Kennedy in an episode of Twin Peaks (2017) Dr. Leener in horror film Nightmare Cinema (2018) and Finding Julia (2019). He will also feature in one scene in the drama Echoes of the Past which he filmed in Patmos, Greece alongside the late Max von Sydow.
In his singing career, Rісhаrd hаѕ album rеlеаѕеs such as Тhе Ѕlірреr аnd thе Rоѕе, Rісhаrd Сhаmbеrlаіn Ѕіngѕ, Јоу іn thе Моrnіng and Тwіlіght оf Ноnоr. Не hаѕ аlѕо рublіѕhеd two books; an autobiography tіtlеd Ѕhаttеrеd Lоvе: А Меmоіr (2003) and a collection of very personal haiku poetry and art, My Life in Haiku (2012).
Apart from acting, singing and painting, ecological matters are a subject close to Richard’s heart. He had lobbied long and hard in Sacramento, California, as well as in Washington D.C to save the Tuolomne River which originates in Yosemite National Park in California. His efforts helped to put the river under the National Wild and Scenic System, a legislation that protects the river.
Richard has also narrated several Audubon television specials including The World of Audubon in support of the Tuolomne River Wild and Scenic campaign in 1984. He narrated Audubon television special Greed and Wildlife: Poaching in America (1989), about the poaching of animals in national forests. In 1987, Richard narrated cinematographer Don Briggs’ documentary, River Song: A Natural History of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.
One of Richard’s most special documentary features was a 1993 Audubon TV special Paradise in Peril filmed in Hawaii. In this feature Richard discussed the struggle to balance tourism on the Islands with environmental concerns.
Richard currently resides in Hawai'i where he enjoys painting, making mobiles, writing haikus, and spending a lot of time with "very dear friends". While Echoes of the Past is in post-production, thankfully Richard shows no signs of wanting to retire soon.