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Higgins recalls ‘complete artist’ Hickey

Tom Hickey in an undated photo. [Rolling Daly]

By Irish Echo Staff

President Michael D. Higgins has been leading the tributes paid to actor Tom Hickey, a personal friend, who died on Saturday evening.

Tom was on a restless pursuit of perfection,” Higgins said to RTÉ in an interview. “It was a pleasure to know him.

“What a contribution. We were blessed to have him and those of us who were his friends were further blessed,” the president added. “I will miss him and so many will miss him.”

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The president referred both to his role as Benjy Riordan in RTÉ’s landmark drama series, “The Riordans,” which he joined in 1965, and to his early prominence in the Dublin Focus Theatre from the same time period.

Born in County Kildare in 1944, Hickey began his working career as a cameraman with RTÉ, while at the same time studying with Deirdre O’Connell at the Stanislavski Studio.

He then founded Focus with O’Connell, Sabina Coyne (who would marry Higgins) and others. The president referred to both his wife’s long friendship with Hickey going back to the mid-1960s and his own close relationship with the actor.

Tom was always talking about the next possibility,” the president said. “He was superb. He was not just another great actor.

"He was continually pushing for what was innovative and therefore he could work with Patrick Mason; he could work with moderns like Marina Carr and Garry Hynes; he worked with Frank McGuinness. And, of course, I remember very early on the relationship with Tom Murphy. Beyond that it was with Tom MacIntyre in the character part of Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘The Great Hunger’ — you saw what was going to be an extraordinary combination of Tom MacIntyre and Tom Hickey.”

The president referred to the actor being part of the “family of Parkinson's sufferers” in addition to his other families. Hickey, after his diagnosis in 2013, became an ambassador for the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland, while he continued to act.

Hickey gave up his role in “The Riordans” in the late 1970s to concentrate on the theatre, but he also did intermittent film work with Irish directors, notably Lenny Abrahamson, Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan.

He once said of his profession: “I always saw it as a vocation. I think it’s very important for any actor to see it that way, in this country, where most of the population are play-actors, writers, chancers, there’s a lot of play and it’s bound to yield up – acting schools or not – players.”

“He was the complete artist,” Higgins said of his friend Hickey. “There’s was always the notion that there was something even more beautiful and still greater yet to come.”

Tom Hickey and fellow founder of the Dublin Focus Theatre in the 1960s Sabina Coyne, the wife of President Michael D. Higgins, at the gala screening of "Stella Days" at Cineworld Dublin as part of the Dublin International Film Festival in 2012. [Photo by Laura Hutton/]