Sunday 2 July 2017 13.54 BST
Heathcote Williams, the radical poet, playwright, actor and polymathic English genius, has died at the age of 75. He had been ill for some time and died on Saturday in Oxford.
He was the author of many polemical poems, written over four decades in a unique documentary style. They included works about the devastation being wrought on the natural environment – Sacred Elephant, Whale Nation and Falling For a Dolphin – and Autogeddon, a grim and majestic attack on the car.
Williams also wrote several successful stage plays including AC/DC, which premiered at the Royal Court in 1969, and The Local Stigmatic, commissioned by Harold Pinter and revived in 2014 at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London on its 50th anniversary. His most recent play, Killing Kit, was about the life and death of Christopher Marlowe.
Scruffy on screen and off, Williams appeared in several films, often in cameo roles. He was a notable Prospero in Derek Jarman’s 1979 production of The Tempest. Other credits were Sally Potter’s arthouse Orlando, based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, and Hollywood’s Basic Instinct 2.
Williams was a very talented figure. He was an accomplished painter – his vivid works hung at the Oxford home he shared with his partner, Diana Senior – and sculptor. He was an impressive conjuror and a member of the Magic Circle. One of his TV plays, What the Dickens!, featured Dickens performing magic shows for children.
His literary output was prolific. It included a book on Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, published when he was 23, and in later life he wrote several poems a month, driven by news and current affairs. As mainstream publishers dried up, these appeared online as YouTube video montages, often narrated by the actors Alan Cox and Roy Hutchins.
At heart, Williams was a revolutionary. The historian Peter Whitfield placed his work in a “great tradition of visionary dissent” stretching from William Blake and John Ruskin to DH Lawrence and David Jones. His poems – blasting the arms trade, consumerism and the tabloids – were “wonderfully innocent” and at the same time “wonderfully streetwise”.
There were comparisons with Percy Bysshe Shelley, the subject of one of Williams’s later long poems, Shelley in Oxford, published in 2012. Both were rebels who wrote with passionate social anger. Like Shelley, Eton-educated Williams didn’t finish his Oxford degree.
In his 60s and 70s, Williams found it difficult to walk any great distance. This confinement did nothing to diminish his creative energies nor his anger at the direction in which society was going in the hucksterish era of Brexit, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.
Williams retained his principled fury to the end. In 2016 he published Boris Johnson: The Blond Beast of Brexit – A Study in Depravity, an excoriating attack reprising the foreign secretary’s lies, evasion and adultery, sold as a pamphlet from the London Review of Books bookshop. Another work, Royal Babylon, lambasted the Queen.
His last volume of poetry about Trump, American Porn, was published in January. Williams wrote that Trump’s real name – Drumpf – “suggests dumbness, even the passing of wind/ As well as the merciful transience of fame.”