RIP Wendy Hughes

Wendy Hughes, who has died in Sydney aged 61, will be remembered by her peers as one of the finest actors of her generation.

Hughes won the AFI award for best actress for Careful, He Might Hear You in 1983 and was nominated on six other occasions, for Newsfront, My Brilliant Career, Lonely Hearts, My First Wife, Echoes of Paradise and Boundaries of the Heart.

“She was a brilliant actress who set the standard and was pioneering for her era,” filmmaker Philippe Mora, who was a close friend in the 1980s and early 1990s, told IF.

“In my opinion without Wendy there would have been no Judy Davis, no Nicole Kidman and no Cate Blanchett. If timing had been different she would have been a major international star. As it is she leaves a legacy of perfect performances as one of Australia's greatest actresses.”

Mora wanted to cast Hughes as the female lead opposite Alan Arkin in his 1983 fantasy comedy/musical The Return of Captain Invincible but she became pregnant and couldn't do it.

Marquee, her agent since 2001, said, “We would like to extend our heartfelt thoughts to the family and friends of our dear client and friend Wendy Hughes. We will miss her greatly, and our industry has today lost a true great.” Cancer was the cause of death.

She trained as a ballerina before graduating from NIDA in 1970. Her first professional gig was in 1971 in Butterflies are Free, a play staged by Harry M. Miller, with Miriam Karlin and Sean Scully.

In 1972 she joined the Melbourne Theatre Company and did two years of rep, working with Googie Withers in The Cherry Orchard and An Ideal Husband.

In her film debut she played a professor alongside Jack Thompson and Jacki Weaver in Tim Burstall's 1974 drama Petersen, which, she later recalled, involved spending a “lot a lot of the time naked and doing sex scenes, because in the '70s you all had to do that.”

Said former producer/distributor Alan Finney, "I first met Wendy when we cast her in Petersen and she was a fantastic on-screen performer and an intelligent and very funny person."

Among her other film credits were The Man Who Sued God, Paradise Road, Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train and Hoodwink.

"I worked with Wendy on Newsfront and  I Can't Get Started," said producer Richard Brennan. "As many people remember she was wildly glamorous with a wonderful screen presence, totally professional in her approach to work and was great fun to be around. Above all she was a staunch ally and friend. This struck me forcibly on many occasions, in particular her loving presence at the deathbed of John Hargreaves."

Her numerous TV roles included Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, State Coroner, MDA, City Homicide, All Saints, Return to Eden and Power Without Glory. In her final role she played Mrs Higgins in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Pygmalion in 2012.

Among the tributes posted on Facebook:

Charles Waterstreet: If Facebook is our Wailing Wall, then I wail and weep for Wendy Hughes, her family and friends, a great and classy actor who lifted everything around her two pegs higher, most beautiful woman in a bar, rolling a joint in one hand, a beer in the other and kissing passionately, all at the same time, effortlessly gorgeous and credible on and off stage.

Deb Verhoeven: Vale Wendy Hughes. A wonderful presence in the Australian screen industries.

Paul Capsis: In shock over the news of the passing of my friend and colleague, the brilliant, Wendy Hughes. Vale Wendy. I am so happy I got to work with her. I will NEVER forget her. Rest in Peace and thank you for your beautiful work.

Shaun Grant: RIP Wendy Hughes star of one of my fave Australian films Lonely Hearts.

Neil Foley: Really sad news – I did an episode of State Coroner once and she was really lovely to me – 61 is way too young!

In 2007 she told ABC interviewer Peter Thompson, “There's certainly been down times, but on the whole I think I've been really fortunate. A lot of it, I think, has to do, when I first started out in the '70s it was, sort of, the renaissance of the Australian film industry, and a lot of films were being done, a lot of television, and there wasn't that much competition.”

She is survived by a daughter, Charlotte, and a son, Jay.