David Kelly, Irish actor who has regular roles in several film and television works from the 1950s onwards, is born in Dublin on July 11, 1929. One of the most recognisable voices and faces of Irish stage and screen, Kelly is known to Irish audiences for his role as Rashers Tierney in Strumpet City, to British audiences for his roles as Cousin Enda in Me Mammy and as the builder Mr. O’Reilly in Fawlty Towers, and to American audiences for his role as Grandpa Joe in the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Another notable role is as Michael O’Sullivan in Waking Ned.
Kelly is educated at Dublin’s Synge Street CBS Christian Brothers school. He begins acting at the age of eight at the city’s Gaiety Theatre, and trains at The Abbey School of Acting. As a backup career, he additionally trains as a draughtsman and calligrapher, and also learns watercolor painting. He appears onstage in the original production of Brendan Behan‘s The Quare Fellow, and gains his first major career attention in Samuel Beckett‘s Krapp’s Last Tape at the Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in 1959. By then he has made his screen debut in a small part in director John Pomeroy’s 1958 film noir Dublin Nightmare.
He becomes a familiar face on British television beginning in the 1960s with the BBC comedy Me Mammy, opposite Milo O’Shea and Anna Manahan. He goes on to often-memorable guest roles on such series as Oh Father!, Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width, and On the Buses, and particularly during the 1970s with a long-running role as the one-armed dishwasher Albert Riddle in the Man About the House spin-off Robin’s Nest. He also has a regular long running role alongside Bruce Forsyth in both series of the comedy Slingers Day from 1986 to 1987.
He gains some of his greatest recognition in 1975, playing inept builder Mr. O’Reilly on the second episode of Fawlty Towers. He is in the voice cast of The Light Princess, a partly animated, hour-long family fantasy that airs on the BBC in 1978.
In Ireland, he may be most famous for his portrayal of the character “Rashers” Tierney in the 1980 RTÉ miniseries Strumpet City, which stars Peter O’Toole, Cyril Cusack and Peter Ustinov. He goes on to have starring roles in television shows such as Emmerdale Farm in the 1980s and Glenroe in the 1990s, as well as playing the grandfather in Mike Newell‘s film Into the West (1992).
Following his appearance as Michael O’Sullivan in the 1998 film Waking Ned, Kelly plays roles in such films as Tim Burton‘s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which he plays Grandpa Joe and Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London. He plays title character Frank Kovak in the mystery film The Kovak Box, in a rare villainous role. Stardust, released in 2007, is his final film. He also does extensive radio work, including a guest appearance on the BBC Radio 4 series Baldi.
Kelly wins a 1991 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Supporting Performer, Non-Resident Production, for a Kennedy Center revival of The Playboy of the Western World. As well, he earns a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for the 1998 film Waking Ned. In 2005, he wins the Irish Film & Television Academy‘s Lifetime Achievement Award, in addition to earning a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
David Kelly dies after a short illness on February 12, 2012 at age of 82. The Irish Times refers to him as the “grand old man of Irish acting.” A Catholic funeral mass takes place on February 16, 2012 at the Church of the Miraculous Medal, in his hometown of Dublin. He is cremated at Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium.