MUCH-loved actress Susan FitzGerald died yesterday morning at her Dublin home following a long battle with cancer.
First and foremost a stage actor with a long association with the Gate Theatre, Susan also acted in many films including 'Angela's Ashes' and 'The Serpent's Kiss'. Her last film role was in 2009's 'Happy Ever Afters'. She was also a regular on television, with major parts in 'The Irish RM' as Miss Longmuir, and in 'Rebel Heart', 'Bachelors Walk' and 'The Big Bow Wow'. She played the part of Nora Clancy in 'Fair City'.
One of six children, Susan was born in Leicester after her family moved there from Dublin when her dad qualified as a GP. They returned to Ireland when Susan was 10 and her father took over a practice in Kinsale.
Susan's future on stage was plotted out very young. Her relatives included playwright Dennis Johnson and Oscar- nominated actor Geraldine FitzGerald. In an interview with the Irish Independent, Susan confirmed that the latter "probably helped push" her "towards acting simply because it was something someone else in the family had done".
Describing her stage debut: "I was about nine and had just played my premiere as the Virgin Mary in the school play," Susan said.
"And then the dinner lady waddled by and said: 'Mary took herself very seriously, didn't she?' But I did! That was when I realised acting was going to be my life."
Susan's more formal theatrical career began when she was a student in Trinity College and became a member of Players theatre society.
It was the 1970s and a lively time for Trinity, where a key group of friends formed for life including Paul McGuinness, his wife-to-be Kathy Gilfillan, Chris de Burgh, Paolo Tullio, Susan and her own husband-to-be Michael Colgan.
The couple fell in love in Trinity, married in their twenties and had three children, Sarah, Sophie and Richard. They divorced in recent years, but remained very close, with Colgan much involved in her care as her health deteriorated.
Upon graduation, Susan began her long association with the Gate Theatre. She was cast in many leading roles on the Gate stage in plays by Shakespeare, Coward, Ibsen, Beckett, Ayckbourn, Williams, Russell, Hampton, Frank McGuinness and Brian Friel, and in adaptations from Dickens and Austen. Her work for the Abbey Theatre included 'Six Characters in Search of an Author', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', 'Hedda Gabler' and 'The Duty Master'.
Fiach Mac Conghail, director of the Abbey Theatre, said: "Her work, particularly on Oscar Wilde, was extraordinary. What many people didn't know was that she was particularly great at tragedy; she understood tragedy and, as such, it was very easy for her. On behalf of everyone at the Abbey Theatre I want to extend our condolences and sadness to Michael Colgan."
One of her last Gate appearances was as Lady Bracknell in their production of 'The Importance of Being Earnest' directed by another long-term friend, Alan Stanford.
"Susan was the dearest friend, the most wonderful actress, I'm heartbroken," said Stanford. "I have known her for the best part of 40 years. As a person and an artist, she was a fighter. For someone so delicate of frame, she was tough as steel and never gave up. I remember seeing her many years ago in 'Lady Windermere's Fan' directed by Hilton Edwards and I remember being taken by this most delightful actress. And she was great fun to work with, such enthusiasm and determination.
"Most of all, though, she was the dearest friend you could wish for. You'd walk into her house for a cup of tea and leave hours later after a three-course dinner."
Expressing his sympathy on hearing of the death, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan said: "Susan is the pre-eminent stage actress of her generation and beloved of theatre audiences. With the poise of the truly gifted she could move from comedies of manners to contemporary plays and also, with equal facility, to television and film.
"She was especially kind and helpful to emerging young actors and her elegant presence soothed many opening night nerves.
"Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis."
Susan's funeral will take place at 2pm tomorrow at the Church of The Three Patrons, Rathgar Road, Dublin 6.
She is survived and will be sadly missed by Sarah, Sophie, Richard and Michael Colgan.