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He was one of the first black actors in the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s and helped found Performers Against Racism in the 1980s which campaigned against apartheid in South Africa.
A statement from his agents said: “Louis paved the way for many actors who followed: a lifelong activist and champion of anti-racism.
Louis was born in The Gambia but moved to the UK to study medicine in 1957.
However, a few years later he had a change of heart and decided to pursue a career in acting.
He went on to star as The Doctor in a 1975 episode of Fawlty Towers, as as in a string of Doctor Who episodes and TV shows like Runaway Bay, Harbour Lights and Oscar Charlie.
London’s Royal Court theatre paid tribute to him as “a brilliant actor and the most wonderful human being; a devoted activist and extraordinary performer”.
The activist was also chairman of Equity’s Afro-Asian Committee, where he campaigned to rid show-business of what he called “big hurdles to be jumped by anybody who was non-white”.
The union said: “We are saddened to learn of the death of former Vice President Louis Mahoney.
“Louis was a passionate activist on behalf of @EquityUK and led the union’s fight against racism and apartheid for many years.”
Emmerdale actor Bhasker Patel recalled the help Mahoney had offered him, saying: “Always enjoyed #LouisMahoney’s guidance when needed from day one entering our ACTING profession.
A post on The Royal Court’s Twitter account said: “We’re so sad to hear of the passing of Louis Mahoney.
“A brilliant actor and the most wonderful human being; a devoted activist and extraordinary performer, he will be sorely missed.
Writer and producer Jack Thorne said: “Louis Mahoney was one of those actors who could carry a whole world through his eyes.
“Worked with him on @kibwetavares’s film Jonah (where he played Daniel Kaluuya’s older self) and he was so magnificent.”
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World news – GB – Fawlty Towers and Doctor Who star Louis Mahoney dies at the age of 81