LONDON (AP) — Brian Rix, a comic actor who used his fame to draw attention to the struggles of people with learning disabilities, died Saturday, a British charity said. He was 92 and had been ill for some time.
Rix, a senior figure in the Mencap mental health charity, became a household name in theater and television in the 1950s and 1960s with the Whitehall Farces, comedies named after the theater where they were performed.
When his oldest daughter, Shelley, was born with Down’s Syndrome in 1951, he refused the advice of doctors to put her away and forget about her and instead used his celebrity to promote charitable work.
In 1980 he became secretary general of Mencap, and became the organization’s chairman in 1988. He was awarded a knighthood in 1986 and was elevated to the House of Lords in 1992. He spoke regularly on mental health issues in the House of Lords, voicing his frustration that he was unable to do more for his daughter, who died in 2005.
“Through his tireless campaigning he brought about vastly improved life opportunities for those with learning disabilities compared with the situation when his daughter was born with Down’s Syndrome,” said Derek Lewis, Mencap’s chairman.
Rix had opposed legislation to permit assisted dying, but changed his mind during his final illness.
In a letter to the speaker of the House of Lords earlier this month, Rix said: “As a dying man, who has been dying now for several weeks, I am only too conscious that the laws of this country make it impossible for people like me to be helped on their way, even though the family is supportive of this position and everything that needs to be done has been dealt with.
“Unhappily, my body seems to be constructed in such a way that it keeps me alive in great discomfort when all I want is to be allowed to slip into a sleep, peacefully, legally and without any threat to the medical or nursing profession.”
After service in the Royal Air Force in World War II, Rix formed his own repertory company. He took “Reluctant Heroes,” one of his early productions, to London’s Whitehall Theatre in 1950 — an association which lasted nearly three decades.
Rix was particularly known for his trousers, which frequently fell down on stage.