Rising Irish star Ruairi O’Connor to play Buddy Holly in new biopic

Ruairi O'Connor

Young Irish actor Ruairi O’Connor has landed a dream part playing Buddy Holly in a new biopic about the life and times the music legend.

Along with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, Holly, whose real name was Charles Hardin Holly, was one of the founding fathers and towering figures of rock ‘n roll music in the 1950s. Now, more than 60 years after his death in a plane crash in 1959, his legend lives on through unforgettable songs like Everyday, That’s Be the Day, Rave On, It Doesn’t Matter and More, Heartbeat, Oh Boy and so many more.

One of his best known songs, Peggy Sue, has become a byword for American teenage girls in the 1950s and has given its name to numerous films and documentaries about the period. It’s amazing to think Holly achieved all by the time of his tragic death at the age of only 22.

He died along with Richie Valens and the Big Bopper in a plane crash at Clear Lake in Iowa on 3 February, 1959, while en route to a concert.

The loss of three such influential musicians at such young ages stunned America and the rest of the world. Don McLean later captured the enormity of the tragedy in his song, American Pie, describing the accident as “the day the music died”.

The film about Holly’s life will be called Clear Lake and is being produced by Rick French of Prix Productions and Stuart Benjamin of Stuart Benjamin Productions. It will be directed by Bruce Beresford, who has the awarding winning Driving Miss Daisy among his credits.

The producers say they don’t just want to focus on Holly’s music but also the role he and other musicians played in the fight for civil rights in America.

It takes a special kind of young actor to do justice to such an iconic figure and so the producers were determined to take their time to find the right person. French told Variety magazine:

“We looked at hundreds and hundreds of audition tapes for the Buddy Holly role and interviewed some tremendously talented actors and musicians, but Ruairi’s audition really stood out.

“He’s a terrific young actor who exudes charisma and he’s also a very accomplished musician who our team believes can handle this very challenging role.”

O’Connor graduated from Trinity College, Dublin in 2015 and has worked extensively for RTE in Ireland and the BBC in the UK. He’s probably best known for his role of Prince Henry Tudor, the future Henry VIII, in the television series The Spanish Princess.

Clear Lake is being produced in association with BMG, which manages Holly’s estate and controls the US publishing rights to his music.

Work is due to start on the film in the Spring next year, depending on where we are with the Covid pandemic.

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By Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore is a writer for Irish Music Daily and Ireland Calling. His favourite Irish music bands are the Dropkick Murphys and the Pogues.