Tall, slim, remote and boyishly handsome, one of Keir Dullea’s most arresting features is his pale blue eyes, which featured in a number of watershed films of the 1960s. His major breakthrough (providing him legendary status) was the starring role as astronaut Dave Bowman in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. After that, he persevered quite well on T.V. and (especially) the stage in a career now surpassing five decades.
Dullea, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, is the son of two book-store owners, and he was raised in New York’s Greenwich Village section. He graduated from George School in Pennsylvania and attended both Rutgers and San Francisco State before deciding to pursue summer stock and regional theatre. Attending the Neighborhood Playhouse, he made his New York City acting debut in a production of “Sticks and Bones” in 1956. His first big break came with the pilot program of the Route 66 (1960) series, and he proceeded to find other TV roles in Naked City (1958), Checkmate (1960) and various dramatic programs.
Following stage work in “Season of Choice” (1959) and “A Short Happy Life” (1961), Dullea made an auspicious film debut in a leading role with The Hoodlum Priest (1961), playing a troubled street gang member who crosses paths with Don Murray’s determined minister. The young actor’s characters from then on seemed to walk a dangerous tight-rope of emotions, and his apparent versatility at such a young age led him to a number of other psychologically scarred portrayals. Tending to play men younger than he really was, none were more disturbed than his haphephobic adolescent David (Dullea was twenty-six at the time) in the deeply felt love story David and Lisa (1962). Paired beautifully with Janet Margolin’s schizophrenic Lisa, Dullea won the Golden Globe Award for “Most Promising Male Newcomer.”
In the World War II military drama The Thin Red Line (1964)he played an edgy, nervous-eyed private who is pushed to his murderous brink by a brutal sergeant on Guadacanal. In Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) Dullea portrayed the incestuous brother of Carol Lynley, who may or may not figure into the disappearance of Lynley’s child. Keir also costarred as the mysterious intruder who inserts an emotional wedge between gay lovers Anne Heywood and Sandy Dennis in the ground-breaking film about homosexuals, The Fox (1967).
Topping that off, Dullea played the salacious Marquis De Sade himself in a relatively tame, internationally flavored production of De Sade (1969). The apex of his film career, however, came with his lead role in Stanley Kubrick’s epic science-fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), as the astronaut Dr. David Bowman.
In the realm of stage acting, Keir made his debut on Broadway in 1967 with “Dr. Cook’s Garden” costarring Burl Ives, and Dullea won some “flower power” stardom two years later as a sensitive young blind man who attempted to wriggle free of his protective, overbearing mother. His character also pursues love with a free-spirited girl, played by Blythe Danner, in the play “Butterflies Are Free.” By the time the movie of this story was released in 1972 both stars had been replaced by Goldie Hawn and Edward Albert.
Dullea next went abroad to seek film work in England and in Canada, but with lukewarm results. He continued to show his odd-man-out appeal on the Broadway stage as “Brick” in 1970, and in the Broadway revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in 1974, acting along with Elizabeth Ashley as “Maggie,” and in the black comedy “P.S. Your Cat Is Dead!” one year later.
In the years since then, Dullea has acted steadily on the stage in New York City, and in U.S. regional theatres, in productions of “Sweet Prince,” “The Seagull” and “The Little Foxes,”among others. His cinematic roles since 1970 have included another “mysterious stranger” in The Next One (1984), and he also reprised his “David Bowman” role in 2010 (1984), the sequel to “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Dullea has had four wives: his first was actress Margot Bennett, and he and his third wife, Susie Fuller (whom he met during the British performances of “Butterflies are Free” in London), cofounded the Theater Artists Workshop of Westport in 1983. Dullea, Fuller and her two children resided in London for quite a while. After Fuller’s death in 1998, Dullea married for the fourth time in 1999 to actress Mia Dillon, who is best known for portraying the character “Babe” in in the play, “Crimes of the Heart” in New York City. Just a few weeks later they appeared together in the play “Deathtrap.”
Dullea has worked infrequently in television roles. Among his more recent work in movies has been the role of a senator in The Good Shepherd (2006), along with Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, which was directed by Robert De Niro.
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