Robert CoatesRobert Coates (1772-1842) was a British would-be-actor who became famous for being atrociously bad. His favorite part was Shakespeare's Romeo.
Robert Coates was born in Antigua in the West Indies as a son of wealthy sugar planter. His lack of any skill in acting was obvious to the contemporaries. Still when he inherited the estate in 1807, he moved to Bath, England. He eventually drew attention of the manager of the Theatre Royal and begun to appear in plays in 1809.
Year later he appeared in Romeo and Juliet in the part of Romeo - in the costume of his own design. The costume had a flowing cloak with sequins, red pantaloons, large cravat and plumed hat - not the mention dozens of diamonds - which was hardly suitable for the part. Audience cracked up with laughter.
Despite of this apparent ridicule, Coates went on to tour the British Isles. If a theater manager would hesitate to let him show his talents, he'd bribe them. Managers, in turn, often called in the police in case things would go seriously wrong.
Coates was convinced he was the best actor in business - at least that's what he claimed. He forgot his lines all the time and invented new scenes and dialogue in the spot. He loved dramatic death scenes and would repeat them - or any other scenes he happened to take fancy to - 3-4 times over.
Coates claimed he wanted to improve the classics. At the end of his first appearance as Romeo he came back in with a crowbar and tried to pry open Capulet's tomb. In another his antics made the actress of Juliet so embarrassed she clung to a pillar and refused to leave the stage. Eventually no actress would agree to play the part with him.
The audience usually answered with angered catcalls and embarrassed jeering - and loads of laughter. His fellow actors would try to make him leave the stage. If Coates thought the audience was getting out of hand, he'd turned to audience and answered in kind.
His fame spread and people would flock to see whether he really was as bad as they had heard. For some reason, Baron Ferdinand de Geramb became his foremost supporter. Even Prince Regent would go to see him. 1811, when he played the part of Lothario in The Fair Penitent in London's Haymarket Theatre, theater had to turn thousands would-be spectators away. In other performance in Richmond, Surrey, several audience members had to be treated for excessive laughter.
Coates went on with his antics. Once when he dropped a diamond buckle when he was going to exit the stage, he crawled around the stage looking for it.
Outside the stage Coates tried to amaze the public with his taste in clothing. He wore furs even in hot weather. He went out in a custom-built carriage with a heraldic device of a crowing cock and a motto While I live, I'll crow. In receptions he glittered from head to toe with diamond buttons and buckles. His preference to diamonds of all kind gave him a nickname "Diamond Coates".
After 1815 his performances decreased and his star eventually faded alongside his remaining fortune.
Robert Coates died in 1848 in street accident when a Hansom cab hit him.