Two-time Oscar winner Peter Ustinov dies. The ''Spartacus'' and ''Topkapi'' rogue, known as much for his offscreen wit, was 82

By Gary Susman
Updated March 29, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

Peter Ustinov, the British actor who was as well known as an offscreen mimic and raconteur as for his Oscar-winning movie roles, died Sunday at age 82 at a clinic near his home in Bursins, Switzerland. He succumbed to heart failure, his son Igor told Reuters. Best known in recent years for his TV and movie portrayals of Agatha Christie sleuth Hercule Poirot, Ustinov enjoyed a nearly seven-decade career as an actor, director, playwright, screenwriter, producer, and author.

Ustinov’s wit was reflected in his many roguish screen characters, especially his Oscar-winning supporting turns as the gladiator wrangler in 1960’s ”Spartacus” and the small-time crook in 1965’s ”Topkapi.” (He was nominated for two more Academy Awards, for his role as Emperor Nero in 1951’s ”Quo Vadis?” and his screenplay for the 1968 computer-embezzling caper ”Hot Millions.”) He also wrote, directed, produced, and starred (as Captain Vere) in the acclaimed 1962 screen adaptation of Herman Melville’s ”Billy Budd.” Knighted in 1990, Ustinov vowed to keep working until he dropped; his last movie was 2003’s ”Luther,” and his final acting role, in the 2003 TV movie ”Winter Solstice,” was as himself. He quipped that his epitaph should read: ”Keep off the grass.”