Ben Cross, star of ‘Chariots of Fire,’ at 72

NEW YORK — Ben Cross, the actor best known to one generation for playing a determined runner in the Academy Award-winning film “Chariots of Fire” and to another audience decades later for his role in a reboot of “Star Trek,” died Tuesday after a short illness. He was 72.

His daughter Lauren announced his death, after an unspecified illness, on Mr. Cross’s Facebook page. She said he had died in Vienna, the Associated Press reported.

The 1981 film “Chariots of Fire” tells the story of two British track stars in the 1924 Olympics who are competing for something greater than medals and world records. Mr. Cross trained daily for 2½ months to play the role of Harold Abrahams, a furiously competitive athlete and son of Jewish immigrants looking to become visible in an Anglo-Saxon society.


In 2009, Mr. Cross appeared in a reboot of the “Star Trek” film franchise, playing Spock’s father, Sarek, who imparts this bit of advice to this son: “What is necessary is never unwise.”

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In a 1983 interview, Mr. Cross described his acting style as “a method, not The Method.”

“The whole thing about acting is that you draw on other people’s experiences,” he said. “I watch them and I listen to them. How I play it is my instinctive interpretation.”

Harry Bernard Cross was born Dec. 16, 1947, in London, according to his profile on IMDB. His father was an apartment doorman who struggled to support the family. Ben quit school at age 15 and worked as a window cleaner, a butcher’s boy, and a dishwasher and eventually as a stagehand at theaters. Watching from the wings, Mr. Cross thought he could perform better, so he auditioned for the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and was accepted.

After roles in regional theater and a brief part in the war epic “A Bridge Too Far,” Mr. Cross had his break in a Broadway musical transported to London’s West End, “I Love My Wife.” Then came another musical, “Chicago,” in which he was working when he read for a role in “Chariots of Fire.”


The film, costarring Ian Charleson, who died in 1990, would go on to win an Oscar for best picture. A New York Times film review declared it “unashamedly rousing, invigorating” and a “very clear-eyed evocation of values of the old-fashioned sort that are today more easily satirized than celebrated.”

And its leading man became a star.

Vincent Canby, the Times film critic, described Mr. Cross as “handsome in a Byronic way” and wrote that he was “tough, abrasive and completely believable as the low-born but richly bred Cambridge student who fights for his rights with a mixture of extroverted charm and naked ambition, which shocks the Caius College dons.”

Mr. Cross and Charleson “are so good,” Canby wrote, “that one wonders why it’s taken even this long for them to receive the kind of attention that each will certainly enjoy from this film forward.”

For decades, Mr. Cross worked steadily in television and film. He had just completed shooting for the coming film “The Devil’s Light,” about an exorcism, according to a statement from his representative, Tracy Mapes. She said he would also be seen in “Last Letter from Your Lover,” about a journalist who discovers a series of letters depicting a star-crossed love affair from the 1960s.


After the success of “Chariots of Fire,” Mr. Cross seemed to go out of his way to avoid being typecast as a Harold Abrahams character again.

After a man spotted him at a New York hotel in 1983 and said, “Say, aren’t you that guy from ‘Chariots of Fire?’ ” Mr. Cross responded, in part, by deliberately lighting a cigarette in front of him. “I wanted to disillusion him,” said Mr. Cross, who was 35 at the time. “I am a smoker, and until people stop identifying me with ‘Chariots of Fire,’ I will continue to smoke.”