“I think that you have to believe in your destiny; that you will succeed, you will meet a lot of rejection and it is not always a straight path, there will be detours - so enjoy the view.”
Michael York, born Michael Hugh Johnson, has had a hugely successful career in performing arts, spanning over 45 years. He has certainly come a long way since his time at Hurst, becoming a well-known figure in cinema, television, and on the stage, as well as receiving two Emmy Award nominations along the way.
Michael’s career began when he joined the National Youth Theatre, and starred in a 1956 production of The Yellow Jacket. He made his West End debut shortly after, starring in a 1959 production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. His stage career also took him far beyond the UK, such as to the US where he starred as Lancelot in a touring production of Camelot. What he’s probably most renowned for, though, are his film and television performances, which have included Tybalt in Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968), Pip in Great Expectations (1974), and even voice-overs for the characters of Mason Fairbanks, Dr Lionel Budgie, and Nigel in The Simpsons! If you don’t recognise him immediately, you may be familiar with his voice; he’s also narrated countless audiobooks, including the well-known Peter and the Wolf, as well as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
York met his wife, Patricia, in 1967 and they married just one year later. His stepson, Rich McCallum, also happens to be a key figure in the world of film - among other works, he directed the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition! Unfortunately, in 2013, things took a turn for the worse when Michael was diagnosed with a rare and potentially life threatening disease: amyloidosis. Caused by the build-up of an abnormal protein called amyloid in organs and tissues throughout the body, it first manifested itself in Michael’s case as dark circles under his eyes. Doctors were mystified for three years - Michael was misdiagnosed several times, for example with bone cancer, and he credits his wife with finally finding the answer; she contacted the doctor who specialised in patients with Michael’s condition.
Michael, however, was far from defeated by his health scare. When in successful recovery, he went on to found RENEWAL (Research Exploring New Amyloidosis Learning) with Paul McComas, MA (author and philanthropist), in order to raise awareness about amyloidosis. The organisation also funds support for patients and their families, as well as research projects into new treatments and potential cures for the disease. For example, recent endeavours have included experimentation with medicines such as doxycycline, as well as nuclear medicine agents.
No longer narrating audiobooks, Michael moved onto something different: the voice over for an awareness video called Amyloidosis Awareness, which can be found on Vimeo. After a few years, when the video needed updating, Michael’s speech had deteriorated to a point where he was no longer able to re-do the voiceover. However, thanks to the amazing technology of ‘Respeacher’ - an advanced voice cloning software - the team were able to use old recordings of Michael’s voice for the updated video. Impersonators were also trained using the older recordings, and the software was then used again, this time via voice conversion, to turn these individuals’ voices into Michael’s. He was incredibly grateful to the team that they were able to preserve the voice that he has lost, which has been something important to him throughout his acting career.
Michael and his wife now happily reside in Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic, which is a non-profit medical centre focussing on integrated healthcare, education, and research. We wish Michael all the best for the future, and congratulate him on both his impressive career and the awareness he has raised about such a rare, often undocumentated condition.