Celebrated British actor Brian Bedford has died, officials with Ontario's Stratford Festival told CBC News on Wednesday. He was 80.

Bedford died after a 2½-year battle with cancer in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he had a home, said Ann Swerdfager, the festival's publicity director. 

"He spent a life on the stage and he was essential to the Stratford Festival," Antoni Cimolino, the festival's artistic director, told CBC News.

"He was the reason so many actors became actors. He was the reason our audiences came year after year. He was not only an icon, he was a delight, and we will miss him so much," Cimolino said.

Bedford was a veteran of the famed theatre festival in southwestern Ontario. In 2014, illness forced him to withdraw from a touring production of The Last Confession and in 2013 he had to bow out of The Merchant of Venice at the festival.

He credited Stratford with allowing him to thrive and flourish as an actor.

"It's made my life actually," Bedford told CBC News in 2011.

"I wanted to have a typical, classical English actor's career doing Shakespeare and the classics. That's what Stratford has provided for me, so that's why I say it's made my life."

Bedford's years at Stratford began in 1974. He took on many of the biggest Shakespearean tragic roles, including Macbeth and King Lear. Other roles on stage allowed him to burnish his reputation as a master of comedy. 

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Brian Bedford, seen in New York in 2011, died at the age of 80 at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., the Stratford Festival confirmed on Wednesday. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

"He is perhaps the finest English-language interpreter of classical comedy of his generation," the New York Times wrote of Bedford in a profile piece in 2011.

In 2009, he directed and starred in the festival's production of The Importance of Being Earnest, playing English society matron Lady Bracknell. When the show moved to Broadway, it won a Drama Desk award and a Tony for best design, and Bedford was nominated for his starring role.

He also won a Tony award in 1971 for best actor in The School for Wives

Bedford is survived by his partner of 30 years, actor Tim MacDonald, whom he married in July 2013. The two had a home in Stratford.

News of his passing comes in the same week as that of another Stratford actor, William Needles, who died Tuesday in Alliston, Ont., at the age of 97. Needles had been a veteran of 47 seasons at the festival.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that Brian Bedford was Canadian. In fact, he was a British citizen.
    Jan 13, 2016 7:23 PM ET
With files from The Canadian Press