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Pete Postlethwaite, British actor was an Academy Award nominee ; Feb. 16, 1946 -- Jan. 2, 2011

LONDON -- Oscar-nominated actor Pete Postlethwaite, a craggy-faced British character actor described by director Steven Spielberg as "the best actor in the world," has died at age 64 after a long battle with cancer.

Friend and journalist Andrew Richardson said Monday that Postlethwaite died in a hospital Sunday.

His extended battle against cancer was well documented in the local newspapers where he lived in rural Shropshire, 170 miles northwest of London. He had recently thanked the staff at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital for its kind treatment and care.

Postlethwaite originally wanted to be a priest but was drawn to acting despite his father's objections about the insecurity of a career in show business. He worked first as a drama teacher before striking out on his own.

Like many English actors, he started his career on stage, performing at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool and working with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

He branched out into movies and television work in the 1980s, most often taking roles as an occasionally menacing working-class figure.

He reached what some viewed as his professional peak when he received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his role in "In the Name of the Father," a film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Emma Thompson.

He had recently been seen in the critically acclaimed film "Inception" and had worked with Spielberg on "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" and "Amistad."

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