Actor Sir John Gielgud, whose career spanned eight decades and roles as diverse as Lear and Hobson the butler in Arthur, died peacefully at his home in Buckinghamshire west of London yesterday. He was 96.

Although renowned for his stage career - he played Hamlet more than 500 times - Gielgud also appeared in more than 50 movies including Caligula (1980), Chariots Of Fire (1981), Gandhi (1982), The Shooting Party (1984), Shine (1996) and Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996).

In 1991 Gielgud played the character of Prospero from Shakespeare's The Tempest in Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books, a role he described as "the best I've ever had". He won a best supporting actor Academy Award in 1981 for Arthur, in which he played Dudley Moore's impish butler.

Gielgud continued making movies until recently appearing in The Tichborne Claimant and Elizabeth in 1998. His television roles included playing Jeremy Irons' father in Brideshead Revisited in 1981. He leaves no survivors.