Here’s What Happened to ‘The King and I’ Star Yul Brynner Before, During and After the King of Siam

Some actors, if they’re lucky enough, become so associated with playing a character that it in many ways not only comes to define them, but secures their legacy for generations to come. That’s certainly the case with Yul Brynner, whose career may have spanned over 40 years and encompassed stage, television and film (including his role in The Ten Commandments), but found himself particularly beloved by the audience for his portrayal of the King of Siam in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, The King and I — which he managed to play in all three mediums.

Over the decades — and through the end of his life — he took to the stage in the part an astonishing 4,625 times, winning a Best Actor Tony Award along the way; brought it to the big screen in the 1956 film adaptation (taking home an Oscar in the same category) and then, in 1972, starred in the TV series Anna and the King.

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“Do I tire of it?” he rhetorically asked the Oakland Tribune in 1972. “Never! Even in the theater there were times when I felt tired and depressed, but immediately when I stepped onto the stage, I felt alive. The character is so alive, so vital, that he carries you along.”

In 1985 he was speaking to the Democrat and Chronicle, and noted that he was frequently asked if he somehow identified with the king. “It is silly,” he replied. “It shows total ignorance on the part of the questioner. Life would not be livable — and acting would not be feasible — if I came home from the theater and approached my wife as the King of Siam. I never identified with the King — except on stage. On stage I portray the King; he takes me over.”

Having been born on July 11, 1920, and to celebrate the fact that this year marks the 100th anniversary of that day, the spotlight has been turned on the life and career of this performer who had so many facets to him, many of which may have been lost over the years due to the focus being primarily on The King and I.

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