Published February 15, 2012
DUBLIN – Irish character actor David Kelly, who played Grandpa Joe in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and motorcycled naked in "Waking Ned Devine," has died. He was 82.
His family and friends said Kelly died Sunday in Dublin after an acting career on stage, film, TV and radio that spanned a half-century. His cause of death was not announced.
Kelly was best known in Ireland for his 1980 depiction of doomed tenement dweller Rashers Tierney in the historical miniseries "Strumpet City" and for his large body of work as a Dublin stage actor in the 1950s and 1960s.
British and Irish TV viewers also could recognize his face and bony frame from short, usually comedic turns on myriad soaps and sitcoms, most memorably as a work-dodging Irish builder opposite John Cleese in a 1975 episode of "Fawlty Towers." He also played a dim-witted, one-armed dishwasher in the late 1970s British sitcom "Robin's Nest."
A longtime colleague, Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan, noted Kelly's old-school charms, punctuated by his propensity for bow ties and smart suits.
"In rehearsal he had a biting wit. He wouldn't do a part unless he knew he could bring something to it no one else could," Colgan said.
Whenever he was filming programs at Irish broadcasters RTE, Kelly was a common sight for Dubliner commuters on the bus traveling from his native district of Goatstown. Kelly was always at the back of the bus, appearing to be talking to himself, but actually memorizing his day's lines.
Irish comedian Niall Tobin, who worked alongside Kelly in the 1990s village comedy-drama series "Ballykissangel," said Kelly "would make you laugh all the time. Even when he was in the depths of a hangover, he would make you laugh."
Usually consigned to bit parts in film, Kelly's two most prominent roles came late in life.
In 1998's "Waking Ned Devine" he portrayed an Irish villager who must impersonate the late Devine to collect a huge lottery win -- and finds himself hurtling down a muddy road, naked apart from his motorcycle helmet, socks and shoes, to keep the ruse intact.
Kelly often joked that his career took off in his 70s once casting agents finally knew about his sexy body.
In 2005 he played Charlie Bucket's grandfatherly escort in Tim Burton's adaptation of the fantasy world of Willy Wonka. That year he also received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Film & Television Academy.
His final role was in 2007's fantasy film "Stardust," in which he played the guard between the English village of Wall and the magical kingdom of Stormhold.
Kelly's Dublin funeral at the Catholic Church of the Miraculous Medal and cremation are scheduled for Thursday. He is survived by his wife, actress Laurie Morton, and their two children.