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When Darth Vader killed an Aberdonian in Star Wars just by looking at him

Darth Vader gave Michael Sheard the death stare in 1980.
Darth Vader gave Michael Sheard the death stare in 1980.

He was the Aberdeen loon whose demise in The Empire Strikes Back was one of the most memorable scenes in the Star Wars franchise.

Michael Sheard was choked to death as Admiral Kendal Ozzel by the menacing stare of Darth Vader.

Star Wars creator George Lucas described it as “the best death scene I’ve ever seen”.

That revelation came in an interview with the Evening Express in 1997 after he published his autobiography: Yes Mr Bronson – Memoirs of a Bum Actor.

The former Aberdeen Grammar School pupil counted Roger Moore and Harrison Ford among his buddies and his face was instantly recognisable from scores of roles.

“I’ve worked with almost every big star and I know them all and it seems like I’ve done every TV series under the sun,” he said.

“They were all great fun but in a sense they were just another job.

“In The Empire Strikes Back I played Admiral Ozzel who was in charge of Darth Vader’s spaceship. He took the ship too close to the planet too soon and revealed its position.

“He was a naughty admiral. Darth Vader killed him just by looking at him!

“Later on with Steven (Spielberg) we went off to film in France and George Lucas met us off a boat. He said: ‘I’ve been wanting to find a moment to tell you. Your death scene in The Empire Strikes Back was the best I’ve ever seen’.”

Sheard said he had “a wonderful time” in the film which is being remembered to mark Star Wars Day which is celebrated annually on May 4.

Premiere brought a tear to his eye

By the time he was cast in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 he had already appeared in scores of popular TV series and dozens of feature films.

He became a cult hero among Star Wars aficionados following his role and was still appearing at sci-fi conventions until his death at the age of 67 in 2005.

Sheard was invited by 20th Century Fox to the Royal Charity Premiere of the new Special Edition Star Wars at the Odeon in Leicester Square in March 1997.

Sheard wrote in his memoir: “I’ve been to premieres and private screenings many times before, but this was different.

“There were literally thousands and thousands and thousands in the crowd.

“I couldn’t believe it to be perfectly honest.

“I tried to be nonchalant of course, but it wasn’t easy.

The ill-fated Admiral Ozzel, in Star Wars as played by the late Michael Sheard.

“This is how it went. First there was a murmur. ‘Who’s that?’, ‘Is he somebody?’ Then there was a shout. ‘Hey, it’s Admiral Ozzel!’, ‘It’s Michael Sheard’, ‘MR BRONSON!’

“Then all hell – in the very nicest possible way – broke loose.

“The chant that burst forth was all but deafening, ‘Mr Bronson, Mr Bronson, Mr Bronson, MR BRONSON!’

“I turned and thanked them in the only way I could because of the noise; I bowed and waved and clasped my hands together above my head.

“I was completely and utterly gobsmacked. It was quite the most stupendously spontaneous thing that has ever happened to me.

“And, I’m perfectly happy to admit, there was a (butch) tear in my eye.”

Mr Bronson was his favourite role

The Aberdeen-born actor was just one of the Scots who appeared in the Star Wars franchise including Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid and Denis Lawson.

Sheard also played Adolf Hitler no less than five times, most famously in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade alongside Harrison Ford and Sean Connery.

But he was best remembered for his role, in the late 1980s, as Maurice Bronson, the super-strict deputy head at Grange Hill.

And it remained one of his favourite creations.

Michael Sheard with his memoir which dedicated 40 pages to his time in Grange Hill.

He once told Evening Express readers: “I got so many letters from people who said they had a Mr Bronson at school.

“That’s the teacher they remember. And nine times out of 10 they realise that they have learned more from that teacher than any other.

“My children certainly had a Mr Bronson at their school but funnily enough I can’t remember one at Aberdeen Grammar.”

Born at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital in 1938 as the son of a Church of Scotland minister, Sheard was raised in Carlton Place in the city’s west end.

Aberdonians were caught up in a love affair with the movies when Sheard was growing up and eventually boasted one cinema seat for every seven people.

Catching the acting bug in Aberdeen

Sheard wrote in his 1997 memoir how he caught the acting bug after a cinema trip to watch The Wooden Horse in 1950 which he eventually saw five times!

“I was a wee lad in Aberdeen when this, one of the very early World War Two escape films, was released in 1950 and I was completely poleaxed by it,” he said.

“During the week it played Aberdeen I saw it five times – on two occasions I saw it round twice! Now, I’m not sure if it’s a very good film or just a medium good one.

“I think it’s very, very good but of course I’m biased.

“Whatever, it’s a splendid yarn, there’s no doubt, and what is more important, to me at least, is that it bit me with the acting bug.”

He moved to England when he was 15 and trained at Rada where he took his mother’s maiden name as his stage moniker and learned to ditch his Aberdeen accent.

He started his career in 1964 at Perth Rep alongside Donald Sutherland before moving back to London where he landed 28 TV roles in his first year.

Sheard supported Aberdeen FC during his life and regularly returned to visit his aunt Lesley in Broomhill Road until her death in the early 1990s.

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