JOHN RHYS-DAVIES Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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John Rhys-Davies is one of modern cinema’s most recognizable character actors. While best known for his work as Indiana Jones’ (Harrison Ford) comic sidekick, Sallah, in two of Paramount’s Indiana Jones adventure films, the actor has appeared in over 100 television shows and films since the early ’70s. He has built an impressive onscreen career, especially for a stage actor who once swore that he would never perform in front of a camera.


Born in England on May 5, 1944, Rhys-Davies grew up in Wales and East Africa. He studied English and History at the University of East Anglia at Norwich, where he became interested in theater while reading classical literature. Upon graduating, Rhys-Davies earned a scholarship to study acting at London’s prestigious Academy of Dramatic Art. He then worked briefly as a schoolteacher before joining the Madder-Market Theatre in Norwich. The actor, who eventually advanced to the Royal Shakespeare Company, performed in over 100 plays. His theatrical credits include starring roles in Shakespeare’s Othello, The Tempest, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Henry the Fourth, Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, and Moliere’s The Misanthrope.


Rhys-Davies was 28 when he made his television debut in 1972 as Laughing Spam Fritter in the BBC’s Budgie, a comedy starring former British pop star Adam Faith as an amusing ne’er-do-well. In 1975, he joined John Hurt in the cast of the television show The Naked Civil Servant, which chronicled the rich life of Quentin Crisp. One year later, Rhys-Davies re-teamed with Hurt, as well as Derek Jacobi and Patrick Stewart, for the BBC’s unforgettable three-part adaptation of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Titled I, Claudius, the television miniseries appeared on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater and gave American audiences their first glimpse of the actor. He subsequently starred as Vasco Rodrigues in NBC’s adaptation of James Clavell’s Shogun, which told the adventures of an English sailor stranded in Japan during the early 17th century. Rhys-Davies’ performance earned him both an Emmy nomination and the attention of director Steven Spielberg.


In 1981, Spielberg cast Rhys-Davies as the comic, fez-wearing Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first installment of the Indiana Jones movies. The film was an instant success and Rhys-Davies’ comedic skill made Sallah an audience favorite. He went on to film Victor/Victoria (1982) with Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Warren, and former pro-football player Alex Karras.