A slew of Hollywood stars including Patrick Stewart, Kim Cattrall and David Suchet have paid tribute to Royal Shakespeare Company co-founder John Barton, who has died aged 89.

Brit Barton, who co-founded the theatre group with Peter Hall in 1960, was described as “simply one of the greatest influences in the acting of Shakespeare of the last century” with performances of plays including The War Of The Roses, Hollow Crown and The Merchant of Venice. He is widely considered to have helped the careers of actors including Ian McKellen, Ben Kingsley and Judi Dench.

Stewart, who played Shylock in Barton’s 1978 production of The Merchant of Venice, said: “It is with great sadness I have heard today of John Barton’s death. But the sadness is overwhelmed by the gratitude, respect and love I had/have for him. No one in my career had the impact that John had and the names William Shakespeare and John Barton will be for me forever united.”

Sex And The City star Cattrall called it the “end of an era”, while Poirot star David Suchet said his “legacy is immeasurable” and Truly, Madly, Deeply star Juliet Stevenson called him a “mentor, teacher, inspirer and friend”.

Royal Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Gregory Doran added: “John was both a great director and teacher, and simply one of the greatest influences in the acting of Shakespeare of the last century.

“John’s greatest influence on the company, and hence to the profession, was his passion for the verse, and his ability to uncover the clues that Shakespeare wrote into the text to enable actors to deliver it with freshness and vivid clarity.”