For some reason, for the past few weeks I've been oddly obsessed with the late British comedian Peter Cook. Maybe it has something to do with the holidays, which make me think of my parents, which brings to mind their senses of humor, which derived in part from their record of Beyond the Fringe, which we listened to often when I was little. ("Then, unavoidably, came peace.")
Anyhow, watching Cook in Not Only...But Also recently, I was struck by his presence--the combination of his rather delicate features with a total, fearless comic spirit. This is not to say he was an over-the-top performer. On the contrary, there's a quietness about him that you don't see much in contemporary comedy. I think Stephen Fry put it well in his statement about Cook a few days after his death in 1995: "He had funniness in the same way that beautiful people have beauty."
Here is that commentary by Fry, who was objecting to the media's laments about Cook's "unrealized potential" and "flawed" personal life. It includes some useful thoughts on the meanings of ambition and success.