It has been announced to the public that actor Nicol Williamson died on December 16th, 2011, from esophageal cancer. Williamson was a mercurial actor who brought a tempestuous fearlessness and unpredictability to his many roles. While he starred in high-profile films like Robin and Marian, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and The Exorcist III, he is perhaps best known for playing Merlin in John Boorman’s Excalibur. A retelling of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, the film was praised for its visuals, was a modest box-office hit, and went on to become a cult favorite in the decades since. For many, Williamson as the mischievous (and dangerous) magician Merlin and Dame Helen Mirren as the ambitious power-hungry Morgana served as the true creative and emotional heart of the film.
It is no overstatement to say that Williamson shaped our conceptions of Merlin for an entire generation, and shaped the consciousnesses of more than a few modern Pagans. The performances of Williamson and Mirren, coupled with Boorman’s symphonic direction, had a huge impression on me as a kid watching and rewatching the film on VHS and cable television. He became for me, and I suspect for others, the image of Merlin in their minds.
Farewell Mr. Williamson, you, and your Merlin, live on in our dreams.