Laurence Olivier, acknowledging Gielgud's mastery of Shakespeare's verse (though he criticized him for making it too much like song), said that Gielgud was possessed of a voice "that wooed the world".
Actor William Redfield, who appeared as Guildernstern in the Gielgud-directed stage version of Richard Burton's "Hamlet" (a filmed version of the stage production was released in 1964, as Hamlet (1964/I)) wrote in his 1967 memoir of the event, "Notes of an Actor", that Gielgud had an encyclopedia knowledge of the play and could play any and all parts of it from memory for his cast as he directed the production.
Actress Helen Mirren has played two of his characters after changing their gender: Hobson from Arthur and Prospero from The Tempest.
All his Oscar and Emmy nominations were received during the latter part of his career, after he had turned sixty.
Along with Malcolm McDowell, he is one of only two actors to play both King Arthur and Merlin. He provided the voice of the former in DragonHeart (1996) and of the latter in Quest for Camelot (1998).
Appeared with Laurence Olivier in a 1935 production of "Romeo and Juliet" in which he and Olivier alternated the roles of Romeo and Mercutio. Gielgud got the better reviews in the lead as Romeo, which spurred Olivier on to become a better actor.
Archive footage of Gielgud as Hamlet appears briefly on the computer screen of Ethan Hawke as Hamlet (2000) in the year 2000 version of Shakespeare's play. The role is considered the summit for a tragedian, and Gielgud was the most celebrated Hamlet of the 20th century, surpassing even John Barrymore, Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton in acclaim for his stage portrayal of the melancholy Dane.
As of June 2006, he is one of only nine people ever to win an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy and a Tony.
Died the same day as Barbara Cartland.
Gielgud stated in his autobiography that he wanted desperately to be cast as The Chorus in Laurence Olivier's film Henry V (1944). He understood why Olivier did not cast him, as when the two had acted together in Shakespearean repertory in the mid-'30s, Gielgud got the better notices. Blessed with a beautiful voice, Gielgud played Shakespeare traditionally, a style Olivier thought of as too close to song as compared to his own revolutionary colloquial style. When Olivier was more secure, he did cast Gielgud as Clarence in Richard III (1955).
Great nephew of celebrated stage actress Ellen Terry.
Great-uncle of dancer and movie choreographer Piers Gielgud.
Has been called arguably the century's greatest "Hamlet".
He believed that animals should not be exploited. He was particularly fond of birds and joined PETA's campaign against the foie gras industry in the early 1990s, narrating PETA's video exposé of the force-feeding of geese and ducks. Many chefs and restaurateurs who saw that video dropped foie gras from their menus. Sir John received PETA's Humanitarian of the Year Award twice, in 1994 and 1999.
He once playfully quipped, "Ingrid Bergman is fluent in five languages. And she can't act in any of them."
He provided the voice of King Arthur in DragonHeart (1996), played King Constant, King Arthur's grandfather, in "Merlin" (1998) and provided the voice of Merlin in Quest for Camelot (1998).
He was awarded the Laurence Olivier Theatre Special Award in 1986 (1985 season) for lifetime achievement to theatre.
He was awarded the 1982 London Evening Theatre Award's Special Award for lifetime achievement to the theatre.
His 1953 arrest for "soliciting homosexual acts" in a public lavatory was dramatized in 2008 as the play Plague Over England by Nicholas de Jongh.