Ben-Hur actor Stephen Boyd was gay, according to his one-time co-star Raquel Welch.

Boyd, who died of a heart attack in 1977 aged 45, never came out as gay and was married to his secretary at the time of his death.

Welch, who starred alongside him in Fantastic Voyage said the actor, who played Messala in Ben-Hur, made hints about his sexuality after she became enamoured with him.

At a film retrospective this weekend in New York, she said: “He was so hot with his cleft chin and he was so not interested in me. I tried to seduce him one time. I was so smitten with him and I was so excited every time I would come on the set I would see Stephen, and think, ‘Oh God, he’s so cute.’ He had what sounded like a Welsh brogue that was so charming.”

Boyd was born and raised in Northern Ireland. He was the original choice to play Mark Antony in Cleopatra opposite Elizabeth Taylor. When he pulled out, the role went to Richard Burton.

She continued: “For my first trip to New York, when we opened the movie, we were both staying at the Plaza Hotel, so I thought, ‘Here’s my chance!’ So Darryl Zanuck took us all out to dinner at 21 and on the way back to the hotel we shared a cab. I said to him as we were going up in the lift, ‘So Stephen, would you like to come in for a drink?’

“We got out of the lift and he walked me to my room and he said, ‘I’d like to tell you a little story that was told to me by John Gielgud when I was working with the National Theatre. You’ll have to think about it for a moment but I hope you get my drift: An actress is a little bit more than a woman, but an actor is a little bit less than a man.’

“I thought, ‘Oh! He’s not interested in me; I am the wrong sex!’

“Honestly, he was such a love and he’s not here anymore. Of course I’m sure a lot of people in the National Theatre knew!”

Boyd was married twice, to Mariella di Sarzana from 30 August 1958 till their divorce on 23 September 1958 and then to secretary Elizabeth Mills from early 1977 until his death later that year. He was rumoured to have been a Scientologist.