When Bob Ellis and Denny Lawrence wrote the 1981 movie Goodbye Paradise, they had only one man in mind to play Michael Stacey, a jaded, disgraced ex-Deputy Police Commissioner who retires to the Gold Coast to write a memoir exposing corruption: Ray Barrett.
“Stacey is a tender guy. He drinks too much and he reflects too much. There's a lot of me in Stacey,” admitted Barrett, the quintessential Australian actor who has died from a brain haemorrhage at a Gold Coast hospital, aged 82.
The craggy-faced Barrett, who suffered from acne as a teenager, acknowledged his rugged looks helped him win roles as scarred, tough guy characters.
Although he was a household name in the UK in the Sixties thanks to the TV series The Troubleshooters, true stardom eluded him. Instead, he'll be remembered as a gutsy, versatile character actor who had memorable roles in films such as Don's Party, The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith (for which he won an AFI award for best supporting actor), Blood Oath and In The Winter Dark. He also collected AFIs for lead actor in Goodbye Paradise and for supporting actor in Hotel Sorrento, and received the AFI's Raymond Longford award for lifetime achievement in 2005. His TV credits included Sporting Chance, Waterfront, The Last Bastion, After the Deluge and Something In The Air. His final on screen appearance was in Baz Luhrmann's Australia.
Born in Brisbane in 1927, he won a radio talent competition at the age of 12 and later worked at that station, 4BH, as an announcer. In 1954 he moved to Sydney and did numerous radio plays for the ABC, running the gamut from Shakespeare to Tarzan. Among his first TV roles were an episode of The Adventures Of Long John Silver and the comedy series The Idiot Weekly with John Bluthal. At the end of 1958 he set sail for England, where he joined his friend Bud Tingwell in the regular cast of the medical soap Emergency Ward 10.
Showing his versatility, Barrett did the voice of John Tracy and numerous other characters in the animated series Thunderbirds and in the movie spin-off Thunderbirds Are Go! He played Peter Thornton, Australian field agent for a multi-national oil company, in 106 episodes of The Troubleshooters from 1965 to 1972.
In 1976, he returned to Australia to make cigarette commercials, and landed the lead role in Bruce Beresford's film of David Williamson's play Don's Party, a logical fit as he'd starred in the play's London production at the Royal Court.
After Fred Schepisi offered him a role in The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith, Barrett realised there was a resurgence in the Australian film industry and decided he wanted to be part of it. He went back to Blighty briefly to star in the miniseries Golden Soak.
He is survived by his widow Gaye O'Brien, whom he married in 1986, and three children. In his 1995 autobiography he thanked O'Brien for having “pulled me up by the bootstraps from what could have been a long slide to the bottom (and) helped to end my romance with the bottle”.