Obituary: Alan Rickman


Alan Rickman, beloved British actor of stage and screen has died aged 69 after a short battle with cancer.

To younger generations, he formed part of their childhoods as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, and his performances have touched the lives of many more besides. With his distinctive languid, resonant voice (which he would later reveal was a speech impediment caused by restricted movement in his jaw) and incredible acting sensibility, Rickman was indeed unique and a real acting presence.

Alan Rickman in ‘Bad Language’ by Dusty Hughes (1983). Image – Hampstead Theatre

Rickman was born in Acton, London, to a working class family, the son of Margaret Doreen Rose (née Bartlett), a housewife, and Bernard Rickman, a factory worker. When he was eight, Rickman’s father died, leaving his mother to raise him and his three siblings mostly alone.

Rickman was late to acting, having trained in graphic design and typography at the Royal Academy of Art before training as an actor at RADA – but his lasting impression, both on stage and on screen, made him one of Britain’s most loved acting talents.

After graduating from RADA, Rickman worked extensively in British repertory theatre, his first professional job being at Birmingham Rep. His work included  Chekhov’s The Seagull and Snoo Wilson’s The Grass Widow at the Royal Court Theatre, as well as Dusty Hughes’ Bad Language at the Hampstead Theatre

He was given the male lead, the Vicomte de Valmont, in the 1985 Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, directed by Howard Davies. After the RSC production transferred to Broadway in 1987, Rickman received both a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award nomination for his performance.

His first screen work was in a BBC production of Romeo & Juliet (1978), in which he played the role of Tybalt.

Rickman as Tybalt in Rome & Juliet. Image – BBC

He is perhaps best known however for his film work. He played romantic leads like Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1995), and Jamie in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991); numerous villains like German terrorist Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988) and the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991).

Rickman as Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). Image – Warner Bros.

More recently as Emma Thompson’s husband in Love Actually (2003), the voice of Marvin the paranoid android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), as Judge Turpin in the movie version of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd (2007) and as the voice of Absalom the Caterpillar in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010).

He became a cult hit as the ambiguous Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series – to which he signed up to all eight films after reading only the first three books. “He had a real understanding of the character and now looking back, you can see there was always more going on there – a look, an expression, a sentiment – that hint at what is to come,” said the franchise’s producer, David Heyman.

Rickman as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film series. Image – Warner Bros

Later theatre performances include the West End and Broadway production of Noël Coward’s Private Lives in 2001, Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey in Dublin in 2010 and as a celebrity teacher in a writing workshop in Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar on Broadway in 2011.

Later in his career he also turned his hand to directing. the Scottish drama The Winter Guest, being his first film behind the camera. This was followed by film A Little Chaos and award-winning 2005 play My Name is Rachel Corrie.

Described as intelligent, wise, witty and the most kind and approachable of people, his death will be mourned by all that were fortunate enough to work with him. Tributes have already been paid by many co-stars who held Alan in the highest regard. Among them, author of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, who tweeted: “There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman’s death. He was a magnificent actor & a wonderful man.

How long will we remember him?