By Peter Griffiths
LONDON (Reuters) - British actor Victor Spinetti, who befriended the Beatles while working on three of their biggest films in the 1960s, has died of cancer at the age of 82, his agent said on Tuesday.
The Welsh-born entertainer was caught up in the frenzy of Beatlemania after appearing with the Fab Four in "Help!", "A Hard Day's Night" and "Magical Mystery Tour".
It was his Tony Award-winning performance in the World War One musical satire "Oh! What a Lovely War" on Broadway that prompted the band to ask him to work with them.
A great story-teller, Spinetti used to joke that George Harrison had told him he had to be in all their films, otherwise "me mum won't come and see them, because she fancies you".
"He was a wonderful actor and a wonderful raconteur," his agent Barry Burnett told Reuters. "Everyone looked forward to having an evening with him because they were going to be entertained. He would start talking and he would never stop."
Young Beatles fans would scream and chase Spinetti down the street because of his links with the band, he added.
"He loved them - they became great friends," Burnett said. "One of his stories was that when he flew over to New York there were big crowds at the airport. So he said 'who's on the plane?' and they said 'well, they're waiting for you'. His association with the Beatles made him the next best thing to them."
In a career spanning more than 50 years, Spinetti starred with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and entertained thousands with a mix of songs and stories at his one-man show.
He worked alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in a 1972 version of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas' "Under Milk Wood", as well as more than 30 other feature films.
Born in a coal-mining village in a tough part of south Wales in 1929 to an Italian father and a Welsh mother, Spinetti grew up above the family's fish and chip shop. He thought of becoming a teacher before going to drama school in Cardiff, the Welsh capital.
In a newspaper interview in 2008, Spinetti said he was baffled by actors who turned down work or refused to tour, telling drama students to learn "the three Rs: redundancy, rejection and resting".
"If you can handle those, do it. Don't do it because you want something, but because you have something to give," he said.
(Editing by Steve Addison)