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David Kelly, Irish character actor, dead at 82

David Kelly poses at the Fifth Annual Screen Actors Guild Award show, March 7, 1999, in Los Angeles. AP file photo

(CBS/AP) DUBLIN - Irish character actor David Kelly, whose 70-year career in stage, films and TV included some naked motorcycling in "Waking Ned Devine," has died in Dublin at age 82. No cause of death was given.

Pictures: Imported from Ireland

Kelly was best known to American audiences as the Irish villager who motorcycled down a muddy country lane in only helmet, socks and shoes in the 1998 comedy hit "Waking Ned Devine." Kelly, who earned a SAG nomination for that role, later would joke that his career took off when he was in his 70s, once casting agents finally knew about his sexy body.

He also played Charlie Bucket's grandfatherly escort in Tim Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Irish and British audiences remember him best as a work-dodging Irish builder opposite John Cleese in a 1975 episode of "Fawlty Towers." He also played a dim-witted, one-armed dishwasher in the late 1970s British sitcom "Robin's Nest."

In Ireland, Kelly was a highly praised Dublin stage actor in the 1950s and '60s. He also depicted doomed tenement dweller Rashers Tierney in the 1980 Irish historical miniseries "Strumpet City."

Born in Dublin and educated in the city's Catholic schools, Kelly got his start on the Dublin stage at age 8. He was honored for lifetime achievement at the 2005 Irish Film and Television Awards ceremony.

A longtime colleague, Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan, noted Kelly's old-school charms, punctuated by his propensity for bow ties and smart suits.

"In rehearsal he had a biting wit. He wouldn't do a part unless he knew he could bring something to it no one else could," Colgan said.

Whenever he was filming programs at Irish broadcasters RTE, Kelly was a common sight for Dublin commuters on the bus traveling from his native district of Goatstown. Kelly was always at the back of the bus, appearing to be talking to himself, but actually memorizing his day's lines.

Irish comedian Niall Tobin, who worked alongside Kelly in the 1990s village comedy-drama series "Ballykissangel," said Kelly "would make you laugh all the time. Even when he was in the depths of a hangover, he would make you laugh."

His final role was in 2007's fantasy film "Stardust."

Kelly's funeral will be held Thursday at the Catholic Church of the Miraculous Medal, followed by cremation. He is survived by his wife, actress Laurie Morton, and their two children.

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