Legendary British actor Alan Bates passed away in 2003, but a new biography reveals a side of the sex symbol that may surprise many of his fans: he was bisexual. Bates — perhaps best known here in the States for his recent work in the ensemble drama Gosford Park — was a leading man in the UK from the fifties through the nineties, starring in such classics as Georgy Girl, An Unmarried Woman, Women in Love, King of Hearts, The Shout, Brittania Hospital, Far from the Maddening Crowd, and dozens more.
Due both to his rugged looks and his penchant for doffing his wardrobe onscreen, Bates was also quite the sex symbol, and was named one of Playgirl's "Sexiest Men Alive" in his day. And according to the detailed personal history recorded in Otherwise Engaged: The Life Of Alan Bates by Donald Spoto, Bates' active romantic life included men more often than it did women.
Said playwright Alan Bennett of the charismatic actor:
"He was an incorrigible romantic … He was always in love, or on the edge of love, and it was always with the one who was going to be the love of his life … No matter that he had told you exactly the same thing about somebody else six months earlier and six months before that … Status, gender or familiarity didn't matter – always, this was going to be the real thing."
Bates reportedly dated both men and women throughout his career, although from Spoto's research, Bates' treatment of his female companions seemed indicative of a man who was unwilling to admit to being homosexual. As one passage puts it: "Oh, he's back with women again, is he?" said the director Peter Wood. "Really, he is so tedious!"
Whether he was simply bisexual or a gay man trying desperately to escape his sexuality (which was a criminal offense for the first 30 years of his life, after all), Bates was an unabashedly free-spirited man, given to flights of romantic fancy and of course breaking many hearts along the way.
For those unfamiliar with Bates's work (or those who want a refresher), here's a clip of Bates in the legendary nude wrestling scene (with Oliver Reed) from 1969's Women in Love (kind of NSFW, unless you work in a clothing-optional office):