Andre Tchaikowsky (also spelled Czajkowski), was born to Jewish parents in Warsaw, Poland in 1935. He survived the war and concentration camps by hiding from the Nazis with his grand-mother, until 1944 when he was caught. Neither of his parents survived the war but he did and resumed his piano lessons and music studies.

He moved to Oxford, England and, according to Benjamin Ivry, lived a “flamboyantly gay” lifestyle. But the established pianist was apparently an avid theatre and Shakespeare enthusiast.

In 1982, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.  He died of the disease on June 26, 1982, at Oxford, England.

When his October 10, 1979 Will was found, it read:

13. I HEREBY REQUEST that my body or any part thereof may be used for therapeutic purposes including corneal grafting and organ transplantation or for the purposes of medical education or research in accordance with the provisions of the Human Tissue Act 1961 and in due course the institution receiving it shall have my body cremated with the exception of my skull, which shall be offered by the institution receiving my body to the Royal Shakespeare Company for use in theatrical performance.

What Tchaikowsky had in mind was being used as the skull of the character Yorick in Hamlet. The Company researched the pianist and found to their surprise that he was a frequent patron of their performances. Lawyers were hired and clearance received for the Company to accept the gift. But news leaked about the odd testamentary gift and newspapers around the world printed the story.

For years, the skull just gathered dust as the actors were initially too squeamish to use a real human skull, by consent or not! Further, some of the scenes were rough on the skull prop and there was legitimate concern that it would be dropped or shattered. Plus, the high-profile prop tended to distract the audience from the play itself.

But finally, in 2008, an actor picked it up and used it on stage and his skull has been in service since. This was initially kept a secret from the audiences and it required a special license from the Human Tissue Authority.

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Famous Wills
  • Ivry, Benjamin, "Alas, Poor Andrzej: The Strange Case of Tchaikowsky's Skull", The Jewish Daily Forward, Dec. 8, 2009 (www.forward.com)