Nicol Williamson 1936 – 2011

Nicol Williamson 1936 – 2011 January 26, 2012

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 MarianThe 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.

Nicol Williamson as Merlin

“He was the most honest, funny and intelligent man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing; he was my father and words cannot adequately express how proud I am of him. […]  If anyone would like to express their love or appreciation of Nicol, I would ask them to make a donation in his name -however small- to a charity for children suffering from cancer or other life threatening illnesses. […]  Dad will live in the memory of all those who knew him, all those who were affected by a performance of his they saw, and all those he made laugh until they couldn’t breathe. I love you Dad. Good game, sir, good game.” – Luke Williamson

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.

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  • I only recently saw Excalibur for the first time and I truly loved how he portrayed Merlin (maybe not the outfits though).

    Sadness. *expletive deleted* cancer! May his family find some comfort in the fact that many loved him.

  • He was a vibrant soul and a remarkable actor. May he not be forgotten.

  • Anonymous

    His kinetic portrayal of Merlin as a quirky, half-mad sorcerer was brilliant, especially in counterpoint to the earlier “wise old man” stereotypes. I saw Williamson onstage in Boston in the late sixties – early seventies, he was my very first Hamlet. As intense an actor as he was on film, I think his stage presence was even more riveting.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I remember him from “Robin and Marian.”

  • Daniel Snowkestral

    I grew up with this movie. I know this dates me a bit. I loved Nicol Williamson’s portrayal of Merlin. May he rest peaceably with his loved ones who have have gone before. May the Holy Ones fill him with restoration, strength, light, and reunion. “And ye shall meet, ye shall know, ye shall remember, and ye shall love them again.”

  • Anonymous

    Best. Merlin. EVAR!!!