Alan Rickman dead at 69

British actor Alan Rickman, whose career ranged from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Harry Potter films, has died at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer.

Played Severus Snape in Harry Potter films, Hans Gruber in Die Hard

The prolific and adaptable film and theatre star, one of Britain's best-loved actors, has died 4:15

British actor Alan Rickman, whose career ranged from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Harry Potter films, has died. He was 69.

Rickman's family said the actor died early Thursday in London after a battle with cancer.

Daniel Radcliffe, who played opposite him in eight Harry Potter films, said Rickman was "undoubtedly one of the greatest actors I will ever work with."

Born to a working-class London family in 1946 and trained at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Rickman was often cast as the bad guy; with his rich, languid voice he could invest evil with wicked, irresistible relish.

His breakout role was as scheming French aristocrat the Vicomte de Valmont in an acclaimed 1985 RSC production of Christopher Hampton's Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Alan Rickman appears with Helen Mirren during a rehearsal for Anthony and Cleopatra at the Olivier Theatre on London's South Bank in 1998. (John Stillwell/Associated Press)

Film roles included the psychopathic villain Hans Gruber, who tormented Bruce Willis in Die Hard in 1988; a deceased lover who consoles his bereaved partner in 1990's Truly Madly Deeply; the wicked sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991; and a wayward husband in 2003 romantic comedy Love Actually.

Roles were remarkably varied

Millions know him from the Potter films, in which he played the potions and defence against the dark arts teacher Severus Snape, who was either a nemesis or an ally — possibly both — to the titular teenage wizard.

Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling tweeted that "there are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman's death. He was a magnificent actor [and] a wonderful man."

Mohammed Saghir, the present-day sheriff of Nottingham — now a ceremonial role in the English Midlands city — paid tribute to Rickman's version of Robin Hood's famous foe.

"His sheriff was a gloriously nasty character who it was easy to love to hate and who he appeared to have great fun playing," Saghir said.

Rickman's villains were memorable, and included an Emmy-winning turn as "mad monk" Rasputin in a 1996 TV biopic.

But Rickman's screen roles were remarkably varied, and included the upright Col. Brandon in Ang Lee's 1995 film version of Sense and Sensibility and Irish politician Eamon de Valera in 1996 historical drama Michael Collins.

He appeared frequently onstage, earning Tony Award nominations for Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1987 and Noel Coward's Private Lives in 2002.

Rickman had a sideline in comic sci-fi, bringing awareness and fun to the spoof Galaxy Quest in 1999 and delivering existential ennui as the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in 2005.

"He could play so many different colours — he could do comedy, he could do period drama, he could be silly, he could be ultra serious, he could be menacing," film critic Leonard Maltin told CBC News. 

'Animal in me takes over'

Rickman was also a filmmaker, directing and co-starring opposite Kate Winslet in the 2014 costume drama A Little Chaos. Seventeen years earlier, he'd directed Emma Thompson and her mother Phyllida Law in The Winter Guest.

"Everybody loved Alan. He was always happy and fun and creative and very, very funny," veteran British actor Michael Gambon told BBC radio. "He had a great voice, he spoke wonderfully well, he was intelligent, he wrote plays and he directed a play. So he was a real man of the theatre and the stage."

Frequently charming in person, Rickman was, by his own account, uncompromising as an actor. During the filming of Harry Potter, he maintained Snape's air of haughty disdain even off-camera.

"The animal in me takes over," Rickman said in 2011 when he appeared on Broadway in Theresa Rebeck's play Seminar.

"You're as polite as possible, but it's not always possible."

Canadian writer and director Richard Greenblatt, who was a close friend of Rickman's, said he was "gentle" and "loving."

"I don't think he ever came off as a kind person, as a generous person, as a loyal person," said Greenblatt. "And yet, those are the first adjectives I think of when I think of him."

Rickman is survived by his partner of 50 years, Rima Horton, whom he married in 2012. Funeral details weren't immediately available. 

With files from CBC News


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