Simon MacCorkindale's widow talks about his death
Susan George, who made her name as a sex siren in Straw Dogs, lost her husband, actor Simon MacCorkindale to cancer last year.
Words: Serena Allott. Photographs: Brian Aris
There is a notice stuck to the fridge door in the kitchen of Susan George’s rambling Exmoor farmhouse. From memory, it is the only thing on any surface in an otherwise immaculate room. Handwritten in capitals, it instructs: 'Drink a glass of water every hour. Essential.' I mention it and Susan’s huge, dark eyes fill with tears. 'I put that there to remind Simon,' she says. 'And I will never take it down.'
Simon is Simon MacCorkindale, her late husband. An internationally acclaimed actor, best known latterly for his long-standing role as consultant Harry Harper in BBC One’s Casualty, he died in her arms of cancer last year. He and Susan had been married for 26 years – he was admitted to the London Clinic for the last time straight from the luxury hotel room he had booked as a surprise for their wedding anniversary.
Theirs was an enduring love – a rare thing in showbusiness. They met at an Ella Fitzgerald concert in 1977, started dating in 1982 and married in 1984 when both were riding a wave of glamour and acclaim. He had been one of the first British actors to make it big in Hollywood. She starred as Amy Sumner in Sam Peckinpah’s astonishingly violent Straw Dogs. It made her name internationally as an actor and a sex siren, Britain’s own answer to Brigitte Bardot.
In October it will be a year since Simon died and, although she no longer feels as if she is outside herself, looking in on her grief, she still struggles to express it, fiddling with her sleeves, playing with her signature long blonde hair as she searches for words.
'We always believed we would beat this. A close friend said shortly after everything had happened, did you never think about things going wrong? And my answer was, when something like this happens in your life to someone you love, you never talk about anything but things going right and the future, hope and positivity, getting through it and out the other side. We believed we were going to win through.'
The couple told no one of Simon’s cancer, when he was diagnosed in 2006, not least because they were assured that once the diseased areas had been removed, he would be fine. Even when the cancer spread to his lungs and he was given five years to live, they kept believing. He continued working, even taking his first singing role as Captain von Trapp in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sound of Music.
'Don’t think I don’t ask myself the question, "Was the work too stressful?" I think it was too stressful, but he loved to work. He wasn’t a workaholic, just adored his job and achievement. He worked harder than any other person I have ever met. He never took a day off sick, he thought illness was something you didn’t think about, you just got on with it.
'I will never know why this cruel thing had to happen, but one thing I have to remind myself of constantly is that it would have been horrendous for Simon to live his life in any way as an invalid. He would have hated that and seeing his pain would have broken my heart into tiny pieces.'
The end was mercifully quick. Simon was leading a full life until that night in the hotel. At the hospital they thought he had another infection. 'We had been here before and his doctors were confident and positive, assuming it was another blip, as we called it, and he would soon get better.'
He insisted Susan do her duty and attend – as planned – the Horse of the Year Show, as its Honorary President. She journeyed between it and his bedside, then, on the Sunday night drove down to Exmoor to pack the clothes in which to bring him home.
That night the clinic rang: her husband was asking for her. 'He was struggling to breathe... I drove like a maniac. He started to relax as soon as I got there, but unbelievably it just got worse, every day, for days, it just got worse.' Susan’s voice is a hoarse whisper. 'I stayed with him every minute and I never let him know we were in trouble. He was always the unselfish one, always putting me first. Now it was my turn.'
The full article can be read in the August 2011 issue of Saga Magazine.