Sir Ian McKellen (1939)
It was on this date, May 25, 1939, that actor Sir Ian McKellen was born in Burnley, Lancashire, England. In addition to his many theatrical roles, McKellen showed up in memorable film roles. And he thrilled a much younger audience as the Middle Earth wizard Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on the books by J.R.R. Tokein. The films somehow dodged much of the fundamentalist Christian outrage consequent to the Harry Potter films. "[M]aybe Tolkien's work is relatively immune from Christian attacks because of his own Catholic faith," mused McKellen in 2002, "On the other hand, an atheist friend of mine said how refreshing it was to see a film about good and evil which doesn't link morality to religion." (29 January 2002)
In a January 19, 1996, profile by Tim Appelo, McKellan is quoted as saying, "I was brought up a Christian, low church, and I like the community of churchgoing. That's rather been replaced for me by the community of people I work with. I like a sense of family, of people working together. But I'm an atheist. So God, if She exists, isn't really a part of my life." (found in Mr. Showbiz.com, which has ceased to exist.)
His biography on the Internet Movie Database includes this thought: "I ... think of the Bible as great literature rather than great history; great imagination rather than reliable witness. Whatever, it is not as a law book that I respect the Bible." Defending his homosexuality in defiance of the Bible, McKellen said to a Christian fan, "The history of your church is the history of how the world changes. Re-interpretation of the Bible is part of it. As an atheist I don't accept the Bible is the word of a non-existent God. And as for the laws of the land (so often based on Judaeo/Christianity) I prefer the view of Thomas Jefferson quoted on the wall of his memorial in Washington DC: "I am not an advocate for frequent changes in law and constitution, but laws and institutions go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind ... We might as well require a man to wear the same coat as fitted him when a boy." (10 November 2002)
Originally published May 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.
This deathbed conversion, by so critical a thinker as Leonardo, who would have nothing to lose by professing piety all his life, can only mean that during his prime years he was a secret freethinker.