Feature

Why McKellen came out

Although the Lord of the Rings actor is now a proud gay activist, he didn’t come out until he was 49.

Ian McKellen spent much of his life in the closet, said Bob Flynn in The Daily Mail (U.K.). Although the Lord of the Rings actor is now a proud gay activist—he’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for AIDS hospices—he didn’t come out until he was 49, fearing it would ruin his career. “Even now there are young actors who want careers as romantic leading men and the best thing is not to reveal you’re gay,” says McKellen, 73. “I suppose I used to wonder if I’d be allowed to play Romeo if I came out.” Growing up in England in the years after World War II, McKellen faced tremendous pressure to pretend that he was straight. “There were no gay clubs about, no bars. Homosexuals were shamed publicly and imprisoned. You were on your own, looking over your shoulder all the time.” The theater was one of the few gay-friendly environments. “It’s probably one of the reasons I became an actor. I’d heard you could meet queers. So it proved.” Fed up with living a lie, McKellen finally announced that he was gay during a 1988 BBC interview. “I thought if you have to compromise to the extent of lying about yourself, is there any job in the world that’s worth that? I don’t think there is.”

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