Peter Shaffer, Playwright Of “Amadeus” And “Equus,” Passes Away At 90

"'Equus' remains one of the most important and valuable things I've ever done in terms of how much I learnt from it," said Daniel Radcliffe.

British playwright Sir Peter Shaffer, best known for the award-winning dramas Equus and Amadeus, died Monday after a brief illness. He was 90.

“He had been struggling with his health for some time but was both determined and delighted to have been able to celebrate his 90th birthday in Ireland last month with close family and friends,” said his agent, Rupert Lord.

Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

“Peter was one of the true Greats of British Theatre as well as a wonderful friend, wickedly funny man, and sparkling raconteur whose lifelong passion for his own art was matched by his love for music, painting, and architecture.”

Born in Liverpool, Shaffer wrote more than 18 plays, including 1964’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun and 1990’s Lettice and Lovage , which earned Maggie Smith a Tony.

His best-known work, however, was Equus—which told the story of an English teen, Alan Strang, plagued by an obsession with horses. The play won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1975, and, two years, later the film adaptation earned Oscarfor stars Richard Burton and Peter Firth. (Shaffer was also nominated for his adapted screenplay.)

A 2007 revival of Equus starring Daniel Radcliffe earned rave reviews and helped break him out of the Harry Potter pigeonhole.

London, UNITED KINGDOM: Daniel Radcliffe plays the part of Alan Strang in Peter Shaffer's play Equus, at the Gielgud Theatre, in central London, 22 February 2007. Equus is a play by Peter Shaffer written in 1973, telling the story of a psychiatrist who attempts to treat a young man who has a pathological fascination with horses. AFP Photo Chris Young (Photo credit should read CHRIS YOUNG/AFP/Getty Images)

“Peter Shaffer was and remains one of the U.K’s greatest playwrights. He created challenging, moving and fantastically theatrical work and was also an incredibly kind, generous and funny man,” Radcliffe said in a statement.

“In my career Equus remains one of the most important and valuable things I’ve ever done in terms of how much I learnt from it. I will forever be grateful to him for trusting me to play the character of Alan Strang at a time when I had extremely limited experience on stage. I feel very privileged to have worked with him and will miss him.”

Amadeus, which explored the relationship between chaotic musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his frustrated rival, Antonio Salieri, earned the 1981 Tony for Best Play. The film adaptation directed by Milos Forman and starring Tom Hulce and F Murray Abraham swept the Oscars in 1985.

F Murray Abraham reacts as Tom Hulce kisses his hand in a scene from the film 'Amadeus', 1984. (Photo by Orion/Getty Images)
Orion/Getty Images

The play is set to be restaged at the National Theatre this fall.

Shaffer was gay, though, as the The Guardian put it, he “[belonged] to a generation of writers who, even after the removal of the legal jeopardy to homosexuality, neither wrote about the subject directly nor spoke about his private life in interviews.”

CANADA - NOVEMBER 03:  The playwrights: Peter Shaffer and   (Photo by Toronto Star Archives/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Toronto Star Archives/Getty

Queer themes did emerge in some of his works, including Equus and 1958’s Five Finger Exercise, about a sexually confused young man working as a tutor for a wealthy English family.

Five Finger Exercise
Five Finger Exercise

In his 1990 obituary, voice teacher Robert Leonard was listed as Shaffer’s “companion” and the playwright’s career ended soon after Robert’s death. Shaffer’s final work was Gift of the Gorgon, about a playwright grappling with the death of his father.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.