If you know the name Roger Rees, you were most likely hit hard by the news of his passing this weekend. The 71-year-old actor died this weekend after what is said to be a brief battle with cancer. If you’re not familiar with the name, that’s okay. It wasn’t a household one. But it was an important one, a distressingly talented one. And one that will be sorely missed by lovers of impossibly smart, endlessly charismatic actors and humans in general.
Chances are good that you recognize Rees from his run on Cheers, as the top quasi-villainous point on that Sam/Rebecca triangle, the tycoon to end all tycoons, and, on occasion, the absolute king of mind games.
In fact, though Rees’ Robin Colcord only appeared in 18 of the show’s 270+ episodes, he was an integral part of Cheers. He was the only male lead who could hold a candle to, or regularly outshine, Ted Danson’s alpha-dog; and the character’s ambition, language, and misadventure helped sell the concept of a Frasier spin-off better than the Frasier character itself.
Though Cheers was only barely the very tip of the Roger Rees career iceberg. Maybe you youngins never even watched the show, but knew and loved him as the mustache twirling Sheriff of Rottingham in Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men In Tights.
Or maybe as the somehow even more pompous Lord Marbury on West Wing.
Actually, film and TV only scratched his surface. Roger Rees was a theatre legend, having starred in the TV and stage versions of Nicholas Nickelby, winning a Tony for the latter and our hearts for the former.
He was and will always be the teacher we all wish we had— or if we’re lucky, who will forever remind us of that one great teacher we DID have.
He was the leader of the only good storyline in that horrendous 1999 A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
His one man show, What You Will, is— from what I’ve heard— one of the greatest pieces of theatre to hit the stage in recent years. It has spent the last seven years at the top of my personal entertainment bucket list.
The man did everything. Most recently, he was the long-running occasional antagonist of SyFy’s Warehouse 13. And whether you watched that show or not (I’m guessing not), the man gave AMAZING villain face.
No matter what you knew Rees from, if you knew him at all, you must have loved him. From PBS to the Royal Shakespeare Company to the goddamn SyFy Channel, the man brought his best to everything he did, and— impressively and so enviably— always looked to be having just the most fun. With Everything. No matter what the project, I have never watched a moment of his performance and felt he was even close to phoning anything in. And maybe he was just good at pretending, but I honestly don’t think that was it. I think he was just the best. And always gave his best. And by committing his full incredible self, made everything he did better.
He will be missed by everyone who admires and appreciates perfection incarnate.