Chariots of Fire: Ben Cross, Who Played Jewish Runner, Dies at 72

Ben Cross, Actor in Chariots of Fire, Dies at 72

Chariots of Fire (1981) -Ben Cross- Chariots- Photofest-H-2020-1597783572
Warner Bros./Photofest

Ben Cross, who portrayed the gold medal-winning Olympic sprinter Harold Abrahams in the 1981 Oscar best picture winner Chariots of Fire, has died. He was 72.

Cross died Tuesday in Vienna of an unspecified illness, his daughter Lauren wrote on Facebook.

“I am utterly heartbroken to share with you that my darling father died a few hours ago,” she wrote. “He had been sick for a while but there was a rapid decline over the past week.”

The London native, who studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, made his big-screen debut in the star-studded war film A Bridge Too Far (1977), directed by Richard Attenborough.

He also appeared in Live Wire (1992), Cold Sweat (1993), First Knight (1995), Solomon (1997) and — playing the father of Zachary Quinto’s Spock — Star Trek (2009).

A stint on stage as Roxie Hart’s lawyer Billy Flynn in the musical Chicago led to him being cast as Abrahams — a winner at the 1924 Summer Games in Paris — in Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire opposite Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell, a devout Christian runner.

In preparing for the role, Cross said he “came to the conclusion that Abrahams was motivated by a combination of prejudice and paranoia,” he recalled. “I played Harold as a man whose pilot light was always lit. There was this quiet defensive anger, and occasionally the boiler would light up.”

Cross said he trained by myself for three months after accepting the role. “Then we had six months training prior to filming,” he said.

On television, he played vampire Barnabas Collins in 1991 in a miniseries version of Dark Shadows for ABC and MGM, Captain Nemo in a 1997 CBS telefilm adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the crime lord Rabbit on the 2013-16 Cinemax series Banshee.