A twinkly-eyed raconteur known for his droll wit and nuanced performances, Sir Peter Ustinov died of heart failure at a Swiss clinic March 28 at 82. He won the supporting actor Oscar twice, for 1960’s Spartacus and 1964’s Topkapi. The portly Hercule Poirot portrayer (he played the Agatha Christie sleuth six times) was also something of a verbal virtuoso: He published his first play as a teenager and netted a variety of literary kudos for his fiction and screenwriting, including the 1961 Cold War parody Romanoff and Juliet (which he also directed) and the 1962 film version of Melville’s Billy Budd (which he cowrote). A UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador at the end of his 60-year career, Ustinov was, in the words of his Lorenzo’s Oil costar Susan Sarandon, ”a prince with a highly developed sense of humor and love of life who, for all of his sophistication, was not above leaving a message on an answering machine as Babar the Elephant.”
1942 First play, House of Regrets, opens to glowing reviews
1951 Receives the first of his four Oscar nominations, for Quo Vadis?
1960 Wins a Grammy for narrating Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf
1977 Publishes Dear Me, a memoir
1990 Knighted by Queen Elizabeth