Thursday, 14 January 2016

Alan Rickman: Harry Potter actor dies aged 69

Alan Rickman, star of Die Hard (1988) and the Harry Potter films, has died aged 69.

The English actor had been suffering from cancer and died surrounded by his friends family in London. In a career spanning six decades, Rickman tallied up over 60 credits in cinema and television, not to mention an illustrious presence on stage.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling led the tributes, describing him as "a magnificent actor and a wonderful man".

She wrote on Twitter: "There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman's death."

She added: "My thoughts are with [Rickman's wife] Rima and the rest of Alan's family. We have all lost a great talent. They have lost part of their hearts."

Born in 1946, to a working class West London family, the young Rickman was more interested in art than acting, studying at the Chelsea College of Art and the Royal College of Art. For a while, he ran a small graphic design studio – but the acting bug took hold, and after three years at the star making drama school RADA (of which he was the vice-chairman at the time of his death), Rickman became a prolific theatre actor.

He spent many years with various repertory companies, including the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company. It was his performance as the manipulative seducer the Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses with the company in 1986 that proved his breakthrough. Roles in television followed, but for the first half of his career, Rickman was barely a household name.

Two days after arriving in Los Angeles for the first time, at the age of 41, Rickman was offered his first movie role – the villainous German Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988). His first thought, when reading the script, "What the hell is this? I'm not doing an action movie."

But he relented, and the result is one of the most memorable antagonists in cinema, in arguably one of the greatest action film of all time. Rickman's gloriously measured performance, with his often imitated nasal delivery, was funny, frightening, and almost immediately iconic.

Another villainous role followed, as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991), leading some to comment that he would be typecast as the stereotypical British bad guy. But the actor opted for more interesting or comedic parts, such as Colonel Brandon in Ang Lee's Sense And Sensibility (1995), or Sir Alexander Dane in the science fiction comedy Galaxy Quest (1999).

He became famous to a generation of Harry Potter fans as Professor Severus Snape, playing the complex wizarding teacher in all eight Potter movies between 2001 and 2011. He also became part of romantic comedy lore in Richard Curtis' Love Actually (2003).

Emma Thompson, who appeared with Rickman in productions including Love Actually and was directed by him in The Winter Guest (1997), said he was "the finest of actors and directors" and "the ultimate ally".

She wrote in a statement: "Alan was my friend and so this is hard to write because I have just kissed him goodbye.

"What I remember most in this moment of painful leave-taking is his humour, intelligence, wisdom and kindness.

"His capacity to fell you with a look or lift you with a word. The intransigence which made him the great artist he was – his ineffable and cynical wit, the clarity with which he saw most things, including me, and the fact that he never spared me the view. I learned a lot from him."

She added: "He was, above all things, a rare and unique human being and we shall not see his like again."

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe said Rickman was "undoubtedly one of the greatest actors I will ever work with".

He wrote on Google Plus: "Working with him at such a formative age was incredibly important and I will carry the lessons he taught me for the rest of my life and career.

"Film sets and theatre stages are all far poorer for the loss of this great actor and man."

TV star and BAFTA ceremony host Stephen Fry wrote: "What desperately sad news about Alan Rickman. A man of such talent, wicked charm and stunning screen and stage presence. He'll be sorely missed."

He was almost always in demand, always working. Two of his films are still yet to be released – Eye In The Sky, and Alice Through The Looking Glass, both due later this year. At only 69, it is certainly hard not to think what other outstanding work we have cruelly been denied.

Crucially, though, all who knew he him spoke of his generosity, warmth, and unfailingly friendly demeanour. For a man who made his name playing bad guys, Alan Rickman was, by all reports, one of Hollywood's good guys.

Rickman is survived by his wife Rima Horton, who he met as a teenager in art school and married in New York last year.

Our thoughts are with his friends and family.

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