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Thring, Francis William (Frank) (1926–1994)

by Robert Macklin

Frank Thring, by Henry Talbot, 1963

Frank Thring, by Henry Talbot, 1963

National Library of Australia, 24446221

Actor Frank Thring, whose death after a long battle with cancer was announced yesterday, delighted in outraging people with cutting put-downs and intimations of his own evil decadence.

How much of the whiff of sensual abandon was true to life is part of the lore of the theatrical backstage, but his public persona delighted fellow Melburnians.

He did not travel particularly well.

While he had a number of screen triumphs in the Hollywood of the 1950s — most memorably as Pontius Pilate in Ben Hur and Herod in King of Kings — he regarded himself as a serious actor and took great pleasure from his associations with the Oliviers and other big names of the British stage.

Thring was born in Melbourne on May 11, 1926, and educated at Melbourne Grammar School. The son of a theatrical impresario and cinema pioneer, he was independently wealthy and when in Australia lived throughout his life in the family mansion in Toorak.

He had a penchant for black and not only wore black clothes but decorated the house similarly.

After beginning his career in radio, he moved into theatre work, taking over the Middle Park Repertory Theatre which he renamed the Arrow Theatre.

He received his big break when he decided to take the Arrow Theatre's production of Salome to Britain where he was critically acclaimed.

This led him to Hollywood where he starred in movie classics The Viking in 1958, alongside Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis and the legendary Ben Hur (1959) with Charlton Heston.

Thring started the famous chariot race in Ben Hur, arguably the greatest action scene in the history of Hollywood.

He also appeared regularly on Australian television, most recently in commercials.

Thring died at the Epworth Hospital in Melbourne on Wednesday. He was 68.

His death was announced by accounting firm Ernst and Young, which had a long established relationship with the actor.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Robert Macklin, 'Thring, Francis William (Frank) (1926–1994)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 11 August 2020.

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