R.I.P. Alan Rickman…
Alan Rickman, one of the best-loved and most warmly admired British actors of the past 30 years, has died in London aged 69. His death was confirmed on Thursday by his family who said that he died “surrounded by family and friends”. Rickman had been suffering from cancer.
A star whose arch features and languid diction were recognizable across the generations, Rickman found a fresh legion of fans with his role as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. But the actor had been a big-screen staple since first shooting to global acclaim in 1988, when he starred as Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis’s sardonic, dastardly adversary in Die Hard – a part he was offered two days after arriving in Los Angeles, aged 41.
But Rickman was also a singular leading man: in 1991, he starred as a cellist opposite Juliet Stevenson in Anthony Minghella’s affecting supernatural romance Truly, Madly, Deeply; four years later he was the honorable and modest Col Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, starring and scripted by Emma Thompson. He was to reunite with Thompson many times: they played husband and wife in 2003’s Love, Actually and former lovers in 2010 BBC drama The Song of Lunch.
In 1995, he directed Thompson and her mother, Phyllida Law, in his directorial debut, the acclaimed Scottish drama The Winter Guest. Last year, he reunited with Kate Winslet, another Sense and Sensibility co-star, for his second film as director, A Little Chaos – a period romance set in the gardens of Versailles.
Yet it was Rickman’s work on stage that established him as such a compelling talent, and to which he returned throughout his career. After graduating from Rada, the actor supported himself as a dresser for the likes of Nigel Hawthorne and Ralph Richardson before finding work with the Royal Shakespeare Company (as well as on TV as the slithery Reverend Slope in The Barchester Chronicles).
His sensational breakthrough came in 1986 as Valmont, the mordant seducer in Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. He was nominated for a Tony for the part; Lindsay Duncan memorably said of her co-star’s sonorous performance that audiences would leave the theater wanting to have sex “and preferably with Alan Rickman”.
He and Duncan – as well as their director, Howard Davies – reunited in 2002 for Noel Coward’s Private Lives, which transferred to Broadway after a successful run in London.
Other key stage performances included Mark Antony opposite Helen Mirren’s Cleopatra at the Olivier Theatre in London, and the title role in Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 2010 – again with Duncan, and again transferring to New York. The following year he starred as a creative writing professor in Seminar on Broadway.
He and his wife, Rima Horton, met when they were still teenagers; she became an economics lecturer as well as a Labour party councilor. In 2012, the pair married, having been together since 1965. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was one of the first to pay tribute on Twitter, along with Stephen Fry and Eddie Izzard.
That Rickman never won an Oscar (he did receive a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Bafta and many more) became a perennial topic in interviews but did not seem to trouble the actor himself. “Parts win prizes, not actors,” he said in 2008. It was the wider worth of his art to which Rickman remained committed, saying that he found it easier to treat the work seriously if he could look upon himself with levity.
“Actors are agents of change,” he said. “A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.”