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Last year, Sir Ian McKellen turned 80 and what does one do to celebrate? He went on tour, of course. There is no slowing this thespian down. His one-man show kicked off in January, running through August, traveling throughout the U.K.

He appeared in small venues, hosting an informal Q&A with audiences. Things got even more personal following the show, with McKellen going to the lobby with a bucket in hand for donations.

According to The Telegraph, Sir Ian refused payment. All of the money raised in ticket sales, earnings — and let’s not forget, the bucket — totaled £4 million ($5.23 million). The funds went to the venues, charitable efforts and projects like improving seating.

He’s now being recognized by The Stage newspaper, topping their annual 100 most influential people in theater list, landing in the number one spot. Apparently, this position has never been held by an actor and typically goes to theater organizers and CEOs of theater groups.

But, not this time.

The Stage editor, Alistair Smith, summed it up nicely, saying, “It is hard to imagine another performer who could have pulled off such a feat, nor one who would have even thought of trying to,” as reported by The Telegraph. 

Smith talked about what was taken into consideration when deciding, saying, “The tour was more than a celebration of Ian McKellen’s illustrious career, it was a love letter to theater itself, and more specifically to local theatre. It was also an act of supreme generosity, the money he has raised will leave a very tangible legacy.”

Making it onto the list goes beyond talent and also reflects intent, with Smith saying: “While the argument that Sir Ian is the greatest actor of his generation is a moot point, it seems inarguable that his devotion to theater, especially theatre outside London, is unparalleled.”

Smith doesn’t just give praise, but is clearly appreciative of McKellen’s support: “Certainly, he has done more for the theatre around the UK in 2019 than anyone else. We are very lucky to have him.”

McKellen performed in 87 venues throughout the U.K., going to smaller towns and villages. Which was followed by an 80-date run in the West End. It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around it… 160 and some performances in a matter of eight months? If anyone can do it, it’s Sir Ian McKellen.

He talked about making sure to go to the less-visited spots, saying, “Growing up in Lancashire, I was grateful to those companies who toured beyond London and I’ve always enjoyed repaying that debt by touring up and down the country myself. It’s been a joyful year taking my show to 87 theaters up and down the country and meeting audiences of all ages, who relish live theater as much as I do.”

If you’d like to see the entire The Stage 100 list, you can do so by going here.

Are you impressed by Sir Ian McKellen’s generosity? 

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By Brigid Brown