Outs Oscar Nominee Nigel Hawthorne

British actor Nigel Hawthorne was recognized as the first openly gay best-actor nominee in the history of the Academy Awards after he was outed by The Advocate magazine.

Summary of Event

Nigel Hawthorne was born in Coventry, England, in 1929. When he was three years old, his family moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where he later attended college at the University of Cape Town. It was there he turned to acting, despite strong opposition from his family. [kw]Advocate Outs Oscar Nominee Nigel Hawthorne, The (1995)
[kw]Outs Oscar Nominee Nigel Hawthorne, The Advocate (1995)
[kw]Oscar Nominee Nigel Hawthorne, The Advocate Outs (1995)
[kw]Hawthorne, The Advocate Outs Oscar Nominee Nigel (1995)
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Hawthorne, Sir Nigel
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Hawthorne moved to London in 1951 to be among the best actors, but London proved to be difficult. By 1957 he gave up trying to break into British theater and returned to Cape Town. Through the next five years, he was cast in leading roles at major theaters, which helped his confidence. In 1962, he returned to London, and three years later he was accepted into Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop. It was at this workshop that he was noticed by the prestigious Royal Court Theatre, and he was invited to act in the company.

By the 1970’s, Hawthorne was working steadily, playing roles both classic and contemporary. In 1973, he played Major Flack in Peter Nichols’s Privates on Parade, which led to his being cast in a leading role in a British sitcom called Yes, Minister. The program was hugely successful and finally allowed Hawthorne to pick and choose future projects. He returned to the stage during the 1980’s, appearing in numerous high-profile productions, including Shadowlands, performed both in London and on Broadway, winning him the 1991 best actor Tony Award.

In part because of his success in Shadowlands, Hawthorne was cast in The Madness of King George, Madness of King George, The (film) where he played a king descending into madness. He won an Olivier Award for his role and transferred with the production to Broadway. He was then asked to reprise his role in the film version of the play, which led to his Oscar nomination in 1995.

Hawthorne led a very happy life for many decades with his partner, writer Trevor Bentham. When his Oscar nomination was announced, he was interviewed by the American GLBT newsmagazine The Advocate. The magazine article (April, 1995) outed Hawthorne, declaring that he was “making history as the first openly gay best actor nominee in the history of the Academy Awards.” Hawthorne claimed, however, that the magazine assured him it would not print personal information about him, such as his sexual orientation.

Hawthorne’s outing seemed to have little negative impact on his career, and he continued working successfully in film, television, and on stage. In 1999, he was awarded knighthood. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and, after having battled it for eighteen months, died from a heart attack on December 26, 2001. He finished his memoirs, Straight Face, two days before his death, and his autobiography was published posthumously in 2002.


There are two primary issues surrounding Nigel Hawthorne’s Oscar nomination. The first deals with the manner in which his sexual orientation was made public. Upon completing his interview with The Advocate, Hawthorne requested the newsmagazine keep his private life private, but it did not. Hawthorne felt violated after the article hit newsstands. The Advocate considered the article an accurate record of an open interview. The idea of outing celebrities was a hot-button issue during the early and mid-1990’s, and there was tremendous backlash against the gay press for what were considered cruel and unfair practices.

The British press, especially known for its biting and cutting headlines and exposes, made much of Hawthorne’s admission, with headlines such as “The Madness of Queen Nigel” and “Yes, Minister, I’m Gay!” The paparazzi became so fierce in their desire to photograph Hawthorne and partner Bentham that bodyguards were hired to protect the private couple.

The harshness of the media, along with Hawthorne’s frustrations over the outing, created a backlash, as cautiousness became a part of life in Hollywood. Rather than opening the door for other closeted celebrities, Hawthorne’s experience frightened them. Many celebrities refused to be interviewed by the gay press.

The second issue surrounding Hawthorne’s outing was the impact an openly gay actor had on future Oscar nominations. Since his outing, there have been few openly gay Oscar nominees in acting categories, except for fellow Brit Ian McKellen, McKellen, Ian nominated in the best-actor category in 1998. In fact, most out, gay actors in the 1990’s and into the twenty-first century have been British or from the United Kingdom: Rupert Everett, Everett, Rupert Alan Cumming, Cumming, Alan Simon Callow, Callow, Simon and Steven Fry. Fry, Steven Many others who are gay or assumed to be gay remain closeted for fear audiences will question their ability to play heterosexual characters convincingly. The early years of the twenty-first century saw lawsuits from celebrities such as Tom Cruise, suits brought against men claiming to have had sexual relationships with certain celebrities.

Although there is much to be said about the manner in which Hawthorne’s orientation was discovered, there was little negative impact on his career. In fact, following his nomination, he became appreciated as one of the foremost actors of his generation. He continued to work in film, television, and theater, and even accepted gay roles, such as in the film The Object of My Affection.

Sir Nigel Hawthorne believed that living a positive life with his partner was as political as he should be. Though GLBT activists pleaded with him to take a vocal stand for GLBT rights, Hawthorne remained a quiet man, refusing to become politically involved.

Hawthorne’s experience has shown that, despite being outed, one’s career can thrive, but also that, even if one’s career is not adversely affected by being outed, GLBT celebrities, too, have a right to privacy. Advocate, The;outing of Nigel Hawthorne[Hawthorne]
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Further Reading

  • Barber, Lynn. “The King and I.” Observer Magazine, September 5, 1999, 14-18.
  • Clarkin, Michelle. “Acting Out.” The Advocate, April 4, 1995.
  • Gross, Larry. “Contested Closets: The Politics and Ethics of Outing.” In The Columbia Reader on Lesbians and Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics, edited by Larry Gross and James D. Woods. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
  • Hawthorne, Nigel. Straight Face. London: Sceptre, 2003.
  • Koenig, Rhoda. “Mad About the Boy.” The Independent: The Weekend Review, October 16, 1999, p. 5.
  • Landesman, Cosmo. “The Saint and the Civil Serpent.” Sunday Times News Review, January 3, 1999, p. 3.
  • Lister, David. “Old Singing Stars Set a Sixties Note.” The Independent, December 31, 1998, p. 12.

1930’s-1960’s: Hollywood Bans “Sexual Perversion” in Films

1967: Los Angeles Advocate Begins Publication

1979-1981: First Gay British Television Series Airs

July 25, 1985: Actor Hudson Announces He Has AIDS

March, 1987: Radical AIDS Activist Group ACT UP Is Founded

August 27, 1991: The Advocate Outs Pentagon Spokesman Pete Williams

1992-2002: Celebrity Lesbians Come Out

1993: The Wedding Banquet Is First Acclaimed Taiwanese Gay-Themed Film

December 3, 1998-February 25, 1999: Screening of Fire Ignites Violent Protests in India

March 21, 2000: Hollywood Awards Transgender Portrayals in Film

September 7, 2001: First Gay and Lesbian Television Network Is Launched in Canada

March 5, 2006: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, and Transamerica Receive Oscars