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Colin Welland (1934 - 2015)

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Colin Welland (1934 - 2015)

Colin Welland, the Academy Award-winning English screenwriter of "Chariots of Fire," died Nov. 3 at 81. According to his family, he had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for years, but he died in his sleep.

The success of "Chariots of Fire" (1981), a British historical drama about runners in the 1924 Olympics, was surprising to anyone who thought American audiences wouldn't want to watch a drama about runners in the 1924 Olympics. Initially, that skepticism was a popular opinion. In an article he wrote for the Guardian, Welland remembered being met with indifference by a Hollywood producer who left 10 minutes into an early screening. That producer wasn't the film's only doubter, but he turned out to be completely wrong about the response the movie would get across the pond.

When "Chariots of Fire" made it to America, it was both popular and critically acclaimed, receiving a box office boost after a strong showing at the 54th Academy Awards, where it won Best Picture, Best Costume Design and Best Original Score in addition to Welland's win for Best Writing (Original Screenplay). When he accepted his award, Welland's confident quip, "The British are coming," became one of the Oscars' legendary moments.

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Welland was also the screenwriter for films including "Yanks" (1979), a World War II drama starring Richard Gere and Vanessa Redgrave, and "Twice in a Lifetime" (1985), in which Gene Hackman played a married man having an affair with a barmaid, played by Ann-Margret.

Welland was an actor as well as a writer, with roles in both England and America. In the critically-acclaimed British drama "Kes" (1969), he played a schoolteacher, and he was on British TV in series including "The Sweeney" (1975) and "Z-Cars" (1962). In the U.S., he appeared in Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" (1971).

Welland was born July 4, 1934, in Leigh, Lancashire, England. He is survived by his wife, Patricia, and four children.

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