Cyril Cusack
Cyryl Cusack La mala ordina.png
Cusack in La mala ordina (1972)
Cyril James Cusack

(1910-11-26)26 November 1910
Durban, South Africa
Died7 October 1993(1993-10-07) (aged 82)
Chiswick, London, England
  • Actor
  • voice actor
  • stage director
Years active1918–1993
(m. 1945; died 1977)

Mary Rose Cunningham
(m. 1979)
Children6, including Sinéad, Sorcha, Niamh, Pádraig and Catherine Cusack
RelativesRichard Boyd Barrett
Max Irons

Cyril James Cusack[1] (26 November 1910 – 7 October 1993) was an Irish[2][3] stage and screen actor with a career that spanned more than 70 years. During his lifetime, he was considered one of Ireland's finest thespians,[4] and was renowned for his interpretations of both classical and contemporary theatre, including Shakespearean roles as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and over 60 productions for the Abbey Theatre, of which he was a lifelong member. In 2020, Cusack was ranked at number 14 on The Irish Times' list of Ireland's greatest film actors.[5]

Born to Irish father and English mother in South Africa and raised in County Tipperary, Cusack dropped out of law school to join the Abbey Theatre and remained with the company for 13 years, acting in over 60 plays. In London, he performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, and later founded his own company which toured across Europe. Making his film debut at age 8, Cusack worked with many top British directors, including Powell & Pressburger, Carol Reed, Peter Brook, Peter Hall, and Anthony Harvey. He co-starred opposite Richard Burton several times, who once commended Cusack's acting as "always himself and yet always totally different." Fluent in both English and Irish, Cusack had a starring role in the very first Irish-language feature film, Poitín (1978).

He was the patriarch of the Cusack acting family, as the father of Sinéad Cusack, Sorcha Cusack, Niamh Cusack, Pádraig Cusack, and Catherine Cusack.

Early life and education

Cusack was born in Durban, Natal, South Africa. His mother, Alice Violet (née Cole), was an English Cockney actress and chorus girl, and his father, James Walter Cusack, was an Irish mounted policeman in Natal Colony, South Africa.[1][2] His parents separated when he was young and his mother took him to England, and then to Ireland. Cusack's mother and her partner, Brefni O'Rorke, joined the O'Brien and Ireland Players.

Cyril made his first stage performance at the age of seven. He was educated at Newbridge College in Newbridge, County Kildare, then read law at University College Dublin. He left without a degree and joined the Abbey Theatre in 1932.



Between then and 1945, he performed in over 60 productions for the Abbey,[6] particularly excelling in the plays of Seán O'Casey. He also performed in plays by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy Katie Roche[7] and The King of Spain's Daughter.[8] In 1932 he also joined the Gate Theatre company, appearing with them in many notable productions over the years. In 1947, Cusack formed his own company, Cyril Cusack Productions, and staged productions in Dublin, Paris and New York.

In 1963, Cusack joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and appeared there for several seasons. By this stage he had established a successful career in films, which had started at the age of eight. The same year, Cusack won a Jacob's Award for his performance in the Telefís Éireann production of Triptych.[9]

Cusack's favorite roles included The Covery in The Plough and the Stars and Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World, which he reprised numerous times.

Cusack's last stage performance was in Chekhov's Three Sisters (1990), in which three of his daughters played the sisters.

Film and television

Cusack made his film debut in Knocknagow (1918), when he was only 8. His breakthrough role was as a wiry IRA getaway driver opposite James Mason in Carol Reed's Odd Man Out (1947).

Cusack played the titular role in the Galileo (1968), which was the directorial debut of Italian filmmaker Liliana Cavani. Cusack returned to Italy several times throughout his career, particularly in the 1970s, both acting on-camera and working as a voice artist, helping create English-language dubs of Italian films.

Cusack, who was bilingual in English and Irish, had a leading part in the controversial Irish language film Poitín (1977).

Personal life

Cusack was twice married:

Paul (1946) worked as a producer with RTÉ
Sinéad (1948) actress
Sorcha (1949) actress
Niamh (1959) actress
Pádraig (1962) associate producer at the National Theatre in London.[10]
Catherine (1968) actress

Cusack is the maternal grandfather of Irish Socialist Workers Party TD Richard Boyd Barrett and English actors Max Irons and Calam Lynch and paternal grandfather of Irish actress Megan Cusack.

In later life, Cusack became a campaigner for conservative causes in Ireland, notably in his opposition to abortion, where he became a frequent letter-writer to the main liberal Irish newspaper, The Irish Times. Regarding his Catholic faith,[11] he commented "Religion promotes the divine discontent within oneself, so that one tries to make oneself a better person and draw oneself closer to God."[12] His religious credentials came under scrutiny following his death and the revelation that he had been unfaithful in his first marriage, with a long-term mistress, Mary Rose Cunningham, who bore him a daughter, Catherine. Cusack married Cunningham following his first wife's death.

Cusack was a longtime friend of Irish attorney general, chief justice and president of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, whom he got to know when they were students at University College Dublin in the early 1930s.[13]


In October 1993, Cusack died at home in Chiswick,[14] Greater London, from MND.[A] His acting career had lasted 75 years.

Complete filmography

Selected television

Theatre work



  1. ^ known in North America as Lou Gehrig's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis


  1. ^ a b "Cyril Cusack Biography (1910-)".
  2. ^ a b "Cyril Cusack, 82, the Irish Actor Often Seen as His Country's Best". New York Times. 8 October 1993.
  3. ^ "Cyril James Cusack actor". Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 March 2014.
  4. ^ "Cyril Cusack – Obituary from The Associated Press". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  5. ^ Clarke, Donald; Brady, Tara. "The 50 greatest Irish film actors of all time – in order". The Irish Times.
  6. ^ "Cusack, Cyril | Abbey Archives | Abbey Theatre – Amharclann na Mainistreach". Abbey Theatre.
  7. ^ "Katie Roche · Teresa Deevy Archive".
  8. ^ "The Teresa Deevy Archive".
  9. ^ The Irish Times, "Presentation of television awards and citations," 4 December 1963.
  10. ^ The Annual Obituary. St. Martin's. 10 March 1993. ISBN 978-1-55862-320-0 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ "Cusack turns into Catherine the great". The Independent.
  12. ^ "Cyril Cusack Quotes". BrainyQuote.
  13. ^ Garret FitzGerald, All in a Life (Gill and Macmillan, 1991)
  14. ^ "Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006".