- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - Romanian actor Radu Beligan, one of the nation’s most prolific actors whose career spanned almost 80 years, has died, a hospital said. He was 97.

The medical director of Elias Hospital, Daniela Safta, said Beligan died Wednesday of a heart attack brought on by age.

Beligan had been acting until April when he bowed out of his role as an elderly scientist in a Romanian play, “The Immortal,” after suffering problems with his celebrated voice.

One of the best-known actors of the last century in Romania, Beligan debuted in a stage version of “Crime and Punishment” in 1937.

Beloved by Romanians for his melodious voice, aquiline features and stern gaze, he starred in 80 plays, acted in 30 films and in numerous television and radio productions. He was director of the National Theater from 1960 to 1990, and in 2006 his face appeared on a postage stamp.

Several actors remembered Beligan for helping them in their careers. “It’s a fundamental loss for Romanian culture…. today something has ended in Romanian theater,” said Dan Puric, a mime artist.

Beligan’s physical frailty was evident on stage in recent years, although his voice remained strong.

Appreciated for his art and commitment to the stage, there was criticism of his political involvements. He was a member of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party from 1969 to 1989, and a deputy of the Great National Assembly from 1961 to 1975.

After communism ended, he supported figures from the center-left Social Democratic Party, though he had no formal role in politics.

In 2013, when he was 95, the Guinness World Records recognized him as the world’s oldest active theater actor. However, Russian actor Vladimir Zeldin, 101, is still active and on the cast list for a September production.

Beligan was born on Dec. 14, 1918 in a village in eastern Romania a month after World War I ended, to an actor father and a Greek mother who taught him French and encouraged him to read.

His last role was as Felix, an elderly scientist bored with his wife watching soap operas, so he sends her on an extended vacation.

Married three times, he is survived by four children, including the actress Lamia Beligan, with whom he sometimes acted.

There was no immediate word about funeral arrangements.

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