The Way of the Word

16. October 2010

RIP Simon MacCorkindale

Simon Charles Pendered MacCorkindale (born February 12, 1952 in Ely, UK) lost his four-year battle against cancer on 14 October 2010 in London, UK. He was 58 years old.

Most people associate the actor with a short-lived scifi-action-TV series that was broadcast in the 1980s: Manimal. In this show, which lasted 8 episodes, MacCorkindale played the lead, Dr. Jonathan Chase, a scientist who could transform himself into any animal he chose, and used that ability to fight crime. In the years since, the show moved on to become a camp cult classic.

While it was something of his main claim to fame, MacCorkindale frequently proved that he was a far better actor than that. After his original plan to become a pilot for the RAF (like his father) failed because of bad eyesight, he joined the theater instead, intending to become a director. He then joined a drama school to learn acting, in order to better understand actors and be a better director. Instead, he became the school’s star pupil and remained an actor.

In the years after that, he appeared on stage and in several highly acclaimed British TV productions, such as I, Claudius and Jesus of Nazareth. In 1978, at age 25, he made the jump to the US to play Simon Doyle in the movie Death on the Nile. It would have been his breakthrough role, but when he refused to lose his British accent, he discovered that producers wouldn’t hire him because of that: he sounded too intellectual. With movie roles few and far between, he did a lot of television work and appeared in Hart to Hart, Fantasy Island, Dynasty, Matt Houston and a host of others. He had a recurring role in Falcon Crest and co-starred with Christopher Plummer in the Canadian/French TV action series Counterstrike. In the last few years, he had a continuing role in the British TV series Casualty.

MacCorkindale was of the same school of charming and debonair British actors as Pierce Brosnan. He’s actually frequently mentioned in the same breath as Brosnan, because they have something in common: in the 1980s, both were considered for the lead part in the James Bond movies. As the story goes, MacCorkindale did not get the role because the producers were concerned that people would be unable to pronounce his name.

You can count me among those who liked Manimal. Every Saturday, I would sit by the TV and be entertained by the rather silly stories the series told. What carried that show was not so much the stories or the cheesy/cheap special effects, but the sense of dignity MacCorkindale projected throughout. It always felt as if he was not an actor trapped in a bad show, it felt as if he was in on the joke, but wasn’t fazed by it and bore it with grace.

Other than Death on the Nile and Manimal, I also enjoyed The Sword and the Sorcerer, where he played a minor character to Lee Horseley’s barbarian hero. I remember being disappointed when someone else was picked to be James Bond.

In this spirit, let me end this on something else than the Manimal into that I expect everyone else will use to torment you.


  1. In on the joke…as if he’d had a direct hand in building the joke and was satisfied with it, perhaps?

    Comment by Dwight Williams — 16. October 2010 @ 12:54

  2. I don’t think he would have had that much influence. But satisfied… Perhaps. The only one who would know, alas, can no longer tell us.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 17. October 2010 @ 18:11

  3. Vapid and unfortunate. Pierce Brosnan is Irish and MacCorkindale is, of course, a quintessentially English name????? What about the Riddle of the Sands (a tale written by a true Irish patriot by the way). If you are to remember a man, at least do him justice and make the effort to remember him at his best. If you know nothing of his best, make the effort to discover it. Otherwise….. at least have the decency to go away….

    Comment by rick Fordy — 3. January 2011 @ 02:09

  4. How about you rewrite this so that it makes sense to someone who isn’t you and therefore doesn’t have the context you apply.

    Edit to add: if that STFU at the end of your comment is supposed to apply to me, I suggest you check out the other RIPs I did. I only write obits if the person who died means anything to me, and then I do them according to what they meant to me.

    “Their best” is, as with everything, a very subjective matter.

    And what does that “true English patriot” have to do with anything, other than having written a (rather dull — yes, I’ve read it) novel that was made into a movie (which I haven’t seen) in which McCorkindale played the second lead?

    Comment by jensaltmann — 3. January 2011 @ 09:27

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