An accomplished British actor, Michael Crawford, has appeared in films, television, and stage musicals. He is most notable for blossoming into a full theater legend in the late 1980s due to his impassioned performance originating the role of the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning and best-selling production of The Phantom of the Opera. Though The Phantom of the Opera is still ongoing without Crawford, critics and audiences agree that Crawford is tailor-made for the role.
Crawford has received different international critical acclaim and awards during his career, including Laurence Olivier awards and a Tony Award. He also published his autobiography Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied with String.
Michael Crawford, born Michael Patrick Smith (January 19, 1942), was born in Sheerness, Kent, England. He was brought up by his mother, Doris Agnes Mary Pike, and his maternal grandparents in a household that Crawford described as a close-knit Roman Catholic family. His mother’s first husband, Arthur Dumbell Smith, was a pilot killed at age 22 during the Battle of Britain, less than a year after they married. Sixteen months after Smith’s demise, Crawford was born as a result of a short-lived relationship. He was given his mother’s surname, which was that of her first husband.
During their early years, Crawford divided his time between the army camp where he and his mother lived during the war and in the Isle of Sheppey, where his mother grew up and would later live with his maternal grandparents. He attended a Catholic school run by nuns.
After World War II, his mother was remarried to Lionel Dennis Ingram, a grocery store owner, and they moved to London. Crawford attended a prep school where he was known as Michael Ingram.
Crawford had a happy home life that sustained him until he developed a passion for performing and singing. When he was 12, he was a choir boy part of a touring company that performed Benjamin Britten’s Let’s Make an Opera. In 1958, he created the role of Jaffet in another Britten opera, Noye’sFludde. Crawford remembers that while working in that production, he realized he wanted to be an actor. He then changed his name to Michael Crawford to avoid confusion with a television newsman named Michael Ingram.
At an early age, Crawford went on to perform in a wide range of stage productions, including Andre Birabeau’s Head of the Family, Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar, Coriolanus, and Twelfth Night, Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn, Francis Swann’s Out of the Frying Pan, Oscar Wilde’s The Striplings, The Importance of Being Earnest, and others.
Theater, Film and Television Career
Crawford made his Broadway debut in 1967 in Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy, where he showcased his aptitude for extreme physical comedy. Gene Kelly noticed his performance, and it got him called to Hollywood to audition for a part in the 1969 film adaptation of Hello, Dolly! – which turned out to be one of the greatest musical films ever. Crawford was cast, along with Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau.
His next films after Hello, Dolly! fared less successfully, though Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1972) enjoyed moderate success in the United Kingdom. His work offers were reduced after that, and much of his salary from Hello Dolly! was lost due to underhanded investments by his agent. Crawford was unemployed for a while and helped his wife in their upholstery business for a while. He also took a job as an office clerk to pass the time in between. During this time, his marriage fell apart, and he got divorced in 1975.
In 1971, he appeared on the London stage to perform in No Sex Please, We’re British, then went on to play as Billy Liar in Billy (1974). During that time, he played the role of Frank Spencer in the BBC sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ’Em, which ran from 1973 to 1975. After the sitcom’s closing, Crawford continued to perform in plays and musicals, such as in Flowers for Algernon (1979).
In 1981, Crawford starred in the original London production of Barnum (1981), playing the lead role of the illustrious American showman P.T. Barnum. He trained in New York to prepare for the ambitious circus stunts for the role. Barnum opened at the London Palladium in June 1981. It earned Crawford his first Olivier Award.
Crawford starred in the Phantom of the Opera in 1986, playing the role of Phantom for two and a half years. He won an Olivier Award, a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, and a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his fantastic performance.
In 1993, Crawford starred in the 20th Century Fox’s animated film Once Upon a Forest, where he landed a role of Cornelius. He created the role of EFX master in the 1995 production of EFX, which opened in Las Vegas in the MGM Grand Theatre. Crawford suffered an accident while the show was running, so he left the show to recover from his injury and undergo a hip replacement operation.
Crawford came back to Broadway as Count von Krolock in the musical Dance of the Vampires (2002-2003). He also originated the role of Count Fosco in Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White (2004), which opened at the Palace Theatre in London. However, he was forced to leave the show after three months as the enormous fat suit that he wore caused him to sweat so much and become dehydrated due to myalgic encephalomyelitis. He spent several months recovering and was unable to reprise the role on Broadway. Crawford moved to New Zealand to be near his daughter and to recuperate from his illness.
In 2011, Crawford originated the role of Wizard in the new Andrew Webber Lloyd musical version of The Wizard of Oz. He left the production in February 2012, and Russel Grant took over his role. He also starred in the West End musical The Go-Between in May 2016.
- Best Actor in a Musical, Laurence Olivier Award (1981) – Barnum
- Best Actor in a Musical, Laurence Olivier Award (1986) – The Phantom of the Opera
- Best Actor in a Musical, Tony Award (1988) – The Phantom of the Opera
- Outstanding Actor in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1988) – The Phantom of the Opera
- Best Actor in a Musical, Outer Critics Circle Award (1988) – The Phantom of the Opera
- Distinguished Achievement in Theatre, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award (1990)
- Outstanding Stage Performance, Variety Club of Great Britain Award (2004) – The Woman in White
- Best Supporting Actor in a Musical, Theatregoers’ Choice Award (2004) – The Woman in White
- Best Featured Actor in a Musical, BroadwayWorld UK Award (2011) – The Wizard of Oz