Prolific actress Jiřina Jirásková dies aged 81

Jiřina Jirásková, photo: CTK

On Monday afternoon, a popular theater, television and film actress Jiřina Jirásková passed away in her Prague home at the age 81 after a prolonged illness. Her acting career spans over sixty years and hundreds of roles.

Jiřina Jirásková,  photo: CTK
To fans of Czech film Jiřina Jirásková is probably best known for her role as Marcela in Zdeňek Podskalsky’s film Světáci from 1969. But her acting career was bound to the stage of Prague’s Vinohrady theatre. She was known for her dry wit, humility and the ability to crack a joke at her own expense. Her colleague from the Vinohrady theatre and also its former director Martin Stropnický had this to say:

“As a person she was a temperamental, funny and sarcastic lady, which is a well-known fact about her. What’s more, she was a beautiful and elegant woman, well into old age. But she also had something I would call male humour. She was able to hold her own against the sarcasm of such great actors as Miloš Kopecký or soft innuendoes of Vlastimil Brodský. I was terribly lucky that I had the chance to see her as a young actor on stage in the 1980s.”

At the age of 19 Jiřina Jirásková began acting at a theatre in Hradec Kralove, but a year later, in 1951, she came to Vinohrady, where she appeared throughout her life. In the first decade after the fall of communism, she took on a new role at the theater, becoming its director in May of 1990. Although she left that post a decade later, she remained with the ensemble and appeared in a number of roles in the past few years.

She was seen as one of the last great theatre actresses of the older generation. But she also had personal qualities that attracted many friends and admirers. Jiřina Bohdalová, who appeared with Jirásková in a number films, said this on Monday evening on Czech Television:

“I lost a partner, a friend, the god-mother of my grandson. If I were to say it in short, she was one of the best women in my life.”

Iva Janžurová,  Jiřina Bohdalová and Jiřina Jirásková in 'Světáci',  photo: Czech Television
Jiřina Jirásková’s first big break in film was in Zbyněk Brynych spy drama Smyk in 1960. She starred in some 70 movies, filming even this past year. Director Zdeňek Podskalsky, who later became her life partner, discovered her talent for comedy in the 1960’s. She was forced to take a decade-long break from acting in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, but made a comeback to bigger roles on the silver screen in 1983 as a nurse in the film Sestřičky. One of her much-loved television roles was the countess in the 1993 film Zámek v Čechách. The last film Jiřina Jirásková appeared in –Jiří Menzel’s Donšajni – is set to premier this spring.

Ms Jirásková was given a number of awards throughout her life, even receiving recognition from President Václav Klaus in 2006. In March of last year, she was also awarded the silver medal by Prague’s mayor for a remarkable contribution to the city’s cultural scene. On Monday night, fans brought flowers and lit candles outside the Vinohrady theatre where Ms Jirásková’s spent sixty years of her life.