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Famous sword fighter who trained Hollywood stars left behind good friends in Largo

LARGO — In more than five decades as a sword-fighting performer, choreographer and coach, Bob Anderson trained movie stars from Errol Flynn to Johnny Depp.

The British fencing legend, who died Jan. 1 in an English hospital, was famous for injecting credibility into sword-fighting scenes like no one else. He managed to make a three-way sword battle in Pirates of the Caribbean look realistic, just as he had in movies as diverse as From Russia With Love, The Princess Bride and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Most famously, he stood in as Darth Vader in the fencing scenes of two Star Wars movies.

Mr. Anderson decorated his home in Sussex, England, with mementoes from his show business pals since the 1950s. But the people who might have known him best lived 3,000 miles away, in a Largo mobile home park.

For about a decade, Mr. Anderson and his wife, Pearl, had wintered at their mobile home in Eldorado Village, a calm retirement community tucked away from the traffic on East Bay Drive.

Dick Hambley, who lives a few doors down, knew that Mr. Anderson had stayed in Sussex this year due to declining health. Hambley, of New York, is a retired telephone lineman and president of the social club.

A few years ago, he and his wife, Joyce, visited the Andersons at their home in England. The den lined with autographed photos from his movie work impressed him, even though he doesn't remember many names.

"I'm old, so I only remember Errol Flynn," Hambley, 80, said this week, lounging barefoot on his screened porch overlooking a rectangular lake.

Les Sandoe from across the street had stopped by, as neighbors do here, bringing a photo autographed by Bob Anderson of Darth Vader fighting Luke Skywalker.

"With him being Darth Vader, he could have really played that up," said Sandoe, 89, a retired photo engraver from Detroit. "But he never did."

When the Andersons first bought their home, few neighbors knew of his life in the movies.

"He didn't want people to like him just because of that," said Hambley.

But he did enjoy reminiscing. Mr. Anderson told his friends about building boats as a young man in England and about working on the Lord of the Rings trilogy in New Zealand.

Mr. Anderson's death at 89 quickly became an international news story. Obituaries commemorated his representation of Great Britain in the 1952 Olympics and two world championships.

His once-hidden role as Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi, revealed in the 1980s by Mark Hamill, was retold.

A statement from the British Academy of Fencing saying that "nearly 100 percent of fencing in Britain today is directly or indirectly attributable to the work of this man" also got wide play.

He had taught swordsmanship to Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan, who each played James Bond in From Russia With Love and Die Another Day, about 40 years apart; turned actor Ryan O'Neal into "a very good swordsman" in Barry Lyndon; and worked with Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro.

Yet according to Sandoe, Mr. Anderson reserved his highest fencing praise for a star from another era: Basil Rathbone.

Back at Eldorado, he was just Bob. Mr. Anderson was a regular at the swimming pool, and once participated in a mystery theater event.

He continued working into his 80s, and would be gone for stretches of time. Then he fell down some stairs on a shoot in Spain several years ago, Hambley said, and was never quite as healthy after that. The last two years, he rode his scooter to the pool.

Today, his home stands empty, except for a ceramic sea horse and an owl in a garden. Neighbors say they expect to see his wife return in the spring.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

Famous sword fighter who trained Hollywood stars left behind good friends in Largo 01/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 10:02pm]

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