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British playwright Pinter dead at 78

world Updated: Dec 26, 2008 10:50 IST
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Tributes poured in on Friday for Nobel Prize winning British playwright Harold Pinter, one of theatre's biggest names for nearly half a century, who died aged 78.

Pinter, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, had been suffering from cancer, and died on Thursday, his wife Lady Antonia Fraser and agent said, with a small private funeral and memorial service to be held at a date to be announced.

"He was a great, and it was a privilege to live with him for over 33 years. He will never be forgotten," Fraser told the Guardian newspaper.

His agent, Judy Daish, told AFP in an email that he died of cancer.

"A life long campaigner for free speech and an uncompromising opponent of the Iraq war... he lived just long enough to hear the Prime Minister (Gordon Brown) announce the final withdrawal of British troops from Iraq," the Independent daily said of Pinter.

Brown announced last week that British troops would leave Iraq by the middle of next year.

"These were among the many sub plots in a life's drama that took him on an eventful personal journey from the east end of London to its West End- a drama on which the curtain has now, sadly, fallen for the last time," the Independent said.

Pinter's plays included "The Birthday Party", "The Dumb Waiter" and "The Homecoming". His first play, "The Room," appeared in 1957 and his breakthrough came with "The Caretaker" in 1960.

They often featured the slang language of his native east London as well as his trademark menacing pauses. The adjective "Pinteresque", referring to such characteristics, is included in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Pinter stopped writing plays in 2005 and focused on poetry, alongside forays into acting and screenwriting.

Following treatment for cancer of the oesophagus diagnosed in 2002, he returned to the stage, winning rave reviews for his performance of Beckett's monologue, "Krapp's Last Tape", in London in 2006.

In his final years, he was also a vocal critic of the Iraq war, calling the 2003 US led invasion a "bandit act" which showed "absolute contempt for the concept of international law".

Leading figures from the arts world, as well as political leaders from around the globe, paid tribute to Pinter.

Michael Billington, Pinter's biographer, told Sky News television he would remember him "above all as a man of generosity".

"Harold was a political figure, a polemicist and carried on fierce battles against American foreign policy and often British foreign policy, but in private he was the most incredibly loyal of friends and generous of human beings," he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid homage to Pinter, hailing him as "a great dramatist and perceptive humanist who was uncompromising and intransigent."

He said that the Nobel literature prize that was awarded to Pinter in 2005 was "an overdue recognition of his immense work" but also served as a tribute to "his courage and his commitment to fighting all kinds of barbarity".

Former Czech president Vaclav Havel said Pinter had been an inspiration in the struggle against communist rule, describing him as an "outstanding dramatist whom I have admired since my youth."

"The solidarity that he displayed towards both myself and my friends during the time of the resistance was of great importance", said Havel, who was jailed by the authorities in Prague in the 1970s for his opposition to the then-government of the former Czechoslovakia.

In its citation for the Nobel Prize, the academy said Pinter was "generally seen as the foremost representative of British drama in the second half of the 20th century".

In Pinter's Nobel acceptance speech, he launched a lengthy and strong attack on US foreign policy, particularly over the Iraq war.

"The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them," he said.

"You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis."

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