|Born||21 February 1946|
Acton, London, England
|Died||14 January 2016 (aged 69)|
|Alma mater||Royal Academy of Dramatic Art|
Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman (21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016) was an English actor and director. Known for his deep, languid voice, he trained at RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) in London and became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), performing in modern and classical theatre productions. He played the Vicomte de Valmont in the RSC stage production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1985, and after the production transferred to the West End in 1986 and Broadway in 1987, he was nominated for a Tony Award.
Rickman's first cinema role came when he was cast as the German terrorist leader Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988). He appeared as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), for which he received the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He earned critical attention for leading roles in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991) and An Awfully Big Adventure (1995) before gaining acclaim for his supporting roles as Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1995), and Éamon de Valera in Michael Collins (1996). He is known for his comedic roles in Dogma (1999), Galaxy Quest (1999), and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). He played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series (2001–2011). During this time he appeared in Love Actually (2003), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) and Alice in Wonderland (2010). His final film roles were in CBGB (2013), Eye in the Sky (2015), and Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016).
Rickman made his television acting debut playing Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet (1978) as part of the BBC's Shakespeare series. His breakthrough part was Obadiah Slope in the BBC television adaptation of The Barchester Chronicles (1982). He later starred in television films, playing the title character in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny (1996), which won him a Golden Globe Award, an Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award, and Alfred Blalock in Something the Lord Made (2004). In 2009, The Guardian named him one of the best actors never to have received an Academy Award nomination. Rickman died of pancreatic cancer on 14 January 2016 at age 69.
Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman was born on 21 February 1946 in the Acton district of London, to housewife Margaret Doreen Rose (née Bartlett) and factory worker, house painter and decorator, and former Second World War aircraft fitter Bernard William Rickman. His mother was Welsh, and his paternal grandmother was Irish. Rickman would later say in April 2015, "I was talking to Sharleen Spiteri about being a Celt, how you smell each other out, because my mother's family is Welsh. There's not a lot of English blood in me." His father was Catholic and his mother was a Methodist. He had two brothers named David and Michael and a sister named Sheila.
Rickman was born with a tight jaw, contributing to the deep tone of voice and languid delivery for which he would become famous. Rickman himself said that a vocal coach told him he had a "spastic soft palate". When he was eight years old, his father died of cancer, leaving his mother to raise him and his three siblings mostly alone. According to biographer Maureen Paton, the family was "rehoused by the council and moved to an Acton estate to the west of Wormwood Scrubs Prison, where his mother struggled to bring up four children on her own by working for the Post Office". Margaret Rickman married again in 1960, but divorced Rickman's stepfather after three years.
Before Rickman met his longtime partner Rima Horton at age 19, he stated that his first crush was at 10 years old on a girl named Amanda at his school's sports day. As a child, he excelled at calligraphy and watercolour painting. Rickman was educated at West Acton First School followed by Derwentwater Primary School in Acton, and then Latymer Upper School in London through the Direct Grant system, where he became involved in drama. Rickman went on to attend Chelsea College of Art and Design from 1965 to 1968. He then attended the Royal College of Art from 1968 to 1970. His training allowed him to work as a graphic designer for the Royal College of Art's in-house magazine, ARK, and the Notting Hill Herald, which he considered a more stable occupation than acting; he later said that drama school "wasn't considered the sensible thing to do at 18".
Following graduation, Rickman and several friends opened a graphic design studio called Graphiti, but after three years of successful business, he decided that he was going to pursue acting professionally. He wrote to request an audition with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), which he attended from 1972 until 1974. While there, he supported himself by working as a dresser for Nigel Hawthorne and Ralph Richardson.
See also: Alan Rickman on screen and stage and List of awards and nominations received by Alan Rickman
After graduating from RADA, Rickman worked extensively with British repertory and experimental theatre groups in productions including Chekhov's The Seagull and Snoo Wilson's The Grass Widow at the Royal Court Theatre, and appeared three times at the Edinburgh International Festival. In 1978, he performed with the Court Drama Group, gaining roles in Romeo and Juliet and A View from the Bridge, among other plays. While working with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), he was cast as Jacques in As You Like It, contributing an essay about his process to the RSC's book Players of Shakespeare 2. His breakthrough role was in The Barchester Chronicles (1982), the BBC's adaptation of Trollope's first two Barchester novels, as the Reverend Obadiah Slope.
It shouldn't be a surprise that Alan Rickman is the only actor to make it onto this Greatest Villains list twice—he does bad deeds with such gusto. Legend has it he kept refusing the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham until it was agreed he could do whatever he liked with it—which, to Kevin Costner's rumoured chagrin, included stealing the whole damn show. Every sneer, every eye-roll, every flourish of splenetic exasperation is a joy to behold. Whether he's cancelling Christmas or cutting your heart out with a spoon, Rickman's crowd-pleasing pantomime villainy is downright heroic.
—Empire on Rickman, ranking his portrayals of the Sheriff of Nottingham (number 14) and Hans Gruber (number 4) on their list of the greatest villains.
Rickman was given the male lead, the Vicomte de Valmont, in the 1985 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, directed by Howard Davies. After the RSC production transferred to the West End in 1986 and Broadway in 1987, Rickman received both a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award nomination for his performance.
In 1988, Rickman played the antagonist Hans Gruber in the action thriller Die Hard in what was his first feature film. Starring opposite Bruce Willis, Rickman's portrayal earned him critical acclaim and a spot on the AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains list as the 46th best villain in film history. Rickman later revealed he almost did not take the role as he did not think Die Hard was the kind of film he wanted to make.
In 1990, he played the Australian Elliot Marston opposite Tom Selleck in Quigley Down Under (1990). The following year, Rickman was cast as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Kevin Reynolds's film adaptation of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). In the film, Rickman acted opposite Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman. Entertainment Weekly proclaimed that while Robin Hood "left critics and movie goers underwhelmed, Rickman’s gleefully wicked villain became the summer’s most talked-about performance". For his performance he received the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Upon winning the award Rickman stated, "This will be a healthy reminder to me that subtlety isn't everything". Despite gaining acclaim within the media for his ability to portray villainous roles in films Rickman took issue with being typecast as a villain. During this decade he would portray a range of characters that would defy media perceptions.
Rickman soon started to play leading roles such as Man, in the enigmatic film Closet Land (1991) alongside Madeleine Stowe; and he also was the romantic role of Jamie in the independent romance film Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991) which earned him another BAFTA Award nomination. The film directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Rickman and Juliet Stevenson proved to be a critical success. Rickman was able to break out of the mold of the movie villain with critic Roger Ebert noting, "The man is Rickman, who you will look at on the screen, and know you have seen somewhere, and rattle your memory all during the movie without making the connection that he was the villain in Die Hard."
Rickman also starred in Stephen Poliakoff's Close My Eyes (1991) with Clive Owen and Saskia Reeves. Jonathan Rosenbaum of The Chicago Reader praised the film and all three lead performances, calling them "edgy, powerful, and wholly convincing, with Rickman a particular standout." All three of Rickman's performances in Close My Eyes, Truly Madly Deeply and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves would win him the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor, and the same performances along with his work in Quigley Down Under would also win him the London Film Critics' Circle Award for Actor of the Year.
A few years later he was cast as Colonel Brandon in Ang Lee's adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Sense and Sensibility (1995). The film also starred Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Kate Winslet. Thompson noted that Rickman could express the "extraordinary sweetness [of] his nature," as he had played "Machiavellian types so effectively" in other films. For his performance, Rickman earned his third BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role nomination, and his first Screen Actors Guild Award nomination. The following year he portrayed Éamon de Valera in the Neil Jordan period drama, Michael Collins starring Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts, and Stephen Rea. Rickman earned his fourth BAFTA Award nomination. In 1996, Rickman starred as the "mad monk" Rasputin in the HBO television biopic Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny, a role for which he won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie, a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film.
Rickman directed The Winter Guest at London's Almeida Theatre in 1995 and the film version of the same play, released in 1997, starring Emma Thompson and her real-life mother Phyllida Law. Rickman's stage performances in the 1990s include Antony and Cleopatra in 1998 as Mark Antony, with Helen Mirren as Cleopatra, in the Royal National Theatre's production at the Olivier Theatre in London, which ran from October to December 1998. Rickman appeared in Victoria Wood with All the Trimmings (2000), a BBC One Christmas special with Victoria Wood, playing an aged colonel in the battle of Waterloo who is forced to break off his engagement to Honeysuckle Weeks' character.
During his career, Rickman played comedic roles, including as Sir Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus in the cult classic sci-fi parody Galaxy Quest (1999) with Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Sam Rockwell, and Tony Shalhoub. Rockwell said that Rickman "was very instrumental in making sure the script hit the dramatic notes, and everything had a strong logic and reason behind it". He also played the angel Metatron, the voice of God, in Kevin Smith's Dogma (also 1999).
In 2001, he first appeared as Severus Snape, the potions master, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. His portrayal of the role throughout the Harry Potter series (2001–2011) was dark, but the character's motivations were not clear early on.
In 2002, Rickman performed onstage in Noël Coward's romantic comedy Private Lives. After its successful run at the Albery Theatre in the West End it transferred to Broadway and ended in September 2002; he reunited with his Les Liaisons Dangereuses co-star Lindsay Duncan and director Howard Davies in the Olivier and Tony Award-winning production. Rickman also voiced the character of "King Philip" in the 2002 King of the Hill episode, "Joust Like a Woman".
With Katharine Viner, Rickman compiled the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie and directed the premiere production at the Royal Court Theatre in London, which opened in April 2005. He won the Theatre Goers' Choice Awards for Best Director. Rickman befriended the Corrie family and earned their trust, and the show was warmly received. But the next year, its original New York production was "postponed" over the possibility of boycotts and protests from those who saw it as "anti-Israeli agit-prop". Rickman denounced "censorship born out of fear". Tony Kushner, Harold Pinter and Vanessa Redgrave, among others, criticised the decision to indefinitely delay the show. The one-woman play was put on later that year at another theatre to mixed reviews, and has since been staged at venues around the world. Despite the adverse reaction from pro-Israel groups, overall, the play was very popular, especially in London. "I never imagined that the play would create such acute controversy," Rickman said. He added, "Many Jews supported it. The New York producer was Jewish and we held a discussion after every performance. Both Israelis and Palestinians participated in the discussions and there was no shouting in the theater. People simply listened to each other."
In 2003, Rickman starred in the ensemble Christmas-themed romantic comedy Love Actually (2003) as Harry, the foolish husband of Emma Thompson's character. The film, written and directed by Richard Curtis, has been called "a modern classic" by The Independent. In 2005, he lent his voice to Marvin the Paranoid Android in science fiction comedy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005) starring Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, and Zooey Deschanel. In 2007 he played the egotistical, Nobel Prize-winning father in the black comedy Nobel Son (2007).
In early 2005, My Name is Rachel Corrie, a play composed from Corrie's journals and emails from Gaza and compiled by Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner, in a production directed by Rickman, was presented in London and later revived in October 2005. The play was to be transferred to the New York Theatre Workshop, but when it was postponed indefinitely, the British producers denounced the decision as censorship and withdrew the show. It finally opened Off-Broadway on 15 October 2006 for an initial run of 48 performances.
Rickman was nominated for an Primetime Emmy Award for his work as Dr. Alfred Blalock in HBO's Something the Lord Made (2004). He also starred in the independent film Snow Cake (2006) with Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Anne Moss, and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (also 2006), directed by Tom Tykwer. He appeared as Judge Turpin in the critically acclaimed Tim Burton film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) alongside Johnny Depp, and his Harry Potter co-stars Helena Bonham Carter and Timothy Spall.
In 2009, Rickman was awarded the James Joyce Award by University College Dublin's Literary and Historical Society. In October and November 2010, Rickman starred in the eponymous role in Henrik Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin alongside Lindsay Duncan and Fiona Shaw. The Irish Independent called Rickman's performance breathtaking.
In 2010, he starred in the BBC television production The Song of Lunch alongside Emma Thompson. That same year he provided the voice of Absolem the Caterpillar in Tim Burton's film Alice in Wonderland (2010).
Rickman again appeared as Severus Snape in the final instalment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011). Throughout the series, his portrayal of Snape garnered widespread critical acclaim. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said Rickman "as always, makes the most lasting impression", while Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine called Rickman "sublime at giving us a glimpse at last into the secret nurturing heart that ... Snape masks with a sneer." Media coverage characterised Rickman's performance as worthy of nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. His last appearance as Snape saw him receive award nominations in 2011, including at the Saturn Awards and the Scream Awards.
In November 2011, Rickman opened in Seminar, a new play by Theresa Rebeck, at the John Golden Theatre on Broadway. Rickman, who left the production in April, won the Broadway.com Audience Choice Award for Favorite Actor in a Play and was nominated for a Drama League Award. Rickman starred with Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz in Gambit (2012) by Michael Hoffman, a remake of the 1966 film. In 2013, he played Hilly Kristal, the founder of the East Village punk-rock club CBGB, in the CBGB film with Rupert Grint.
In 2014, he directed and starred in the costume drama film, A Little Chaos starring Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle, and Stanley Tucci. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film received mixed reviews with its critics consensus reading, "Stylish and well-acted without ever living up to its dramatic potential, A Little Chaos is shouldered by the impressive efforts of a talented cast." The following year he starred in Gavin Hood's Eye in the Sky (2015) starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and Barkhad Abdi. This would be Rickman's final onscreen performance. The film debuted at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival to great acclaim, receiving a Rotten Tomatoes score of 95%, based on 175 critics, with the consensus being, "As taut as it is timely, Eye in the Sky offers a powerfully acted – and unusually cerebral – spin on the modern wartime political thriller."
Rickman was chosen by Empire as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history (No. 34) in 1995 and ranked No. 59 in Empire's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list in October 1997. In 2009 and 2010, he was ranked once again as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars by Empire, both times placing No. 8 out of the 50 actors chosen. He was elected to the council of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in 1993; he was subsequently RADA's vice-chairman and a member of its artistic advisory and training committees and development board.
Rickman was voted No. 19 in Empire magazine's Greatest Living Movie Stars over the age of 50 and was twice nominated for Broadway's Tony Award as Best Actor (Play); in 1987 for Les Liaisons Dangereuses and in 2002 for a revival of Noël Coward's Private Lives. The Guardian named Rickman as an "honourable mention" in a list of the best actors never to have received an Academy Award nomination.
Two researchers, a linguist and a sound engineer, found "the perfect [male] voice" to be a combination of Rickman's and Jeremy Irons' voices based on a sample of 50 voices. The BBC states that Rickman's "sonorous, languid voice was his calling card—making even throwaway lines of dialogue sound thought-out and authoritative." In their vocal range exercises in studying for a GCSE in drama, he was singled out by the BBC for his "excellent diction and articulation".
Rickman is featured in several musical works, including a song composed by Adam Leonard entitled "Not Alan Rickman". Credited as 'A Strolling Player' in the sleeve notes, the actor played a "Master of Ceremonies" part, announcing the various instruments at the end of the first part of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells II (1992) on the track "The Bell". Rickman was one of the many artists who recited Shakespearian sonnets on the album When Love Speaks (2002), and also featured prominently in a music video by Scottish rock band Texas entitled "In Demand", which premiered on MTV Europe in August 2000.
In 1965, at age 19, Rickman met 18-year-old Rima Horton, who became his partner in the early 1970s and would later be a Labour Party councillor on Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council (1986–2006) and an economics lecturer at Kingston University in London. In 2015, Rickman confirmed that they had married in a private ceremony in New York City in 2012.
Rickman was the godfather of fellow actor Tom Burke. Rickman's brother Michael is a Conservative Party district councillor in Leicestershire.
Rickman was an active patron of the research foundation Saving Faces and honorary president of the International Performers' Aid Trust, a charity that works to fight poverty amongst performing artists all over the world.
When discussing politics, Rickman said he "was born a card-carrying member of the Labour Party." His last recorded work prior to his death was for a short video to help Oxford University students raise funds and awareness of the refugee crisis for Save the Children and Refugee Council. According to his diaries, Rickman declined a CBE in 2008.
Rickman was political until his last days. His last onscreen performance was with Helen Mirren in the drama Eye in the Sky, which he had described as "a film about the moral responsibilities governments face regarding the use of drones." In 2003, after reading published emails by Rachel Corrie, a US activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, he was motivated to produce My Name Is Rachel Corrie which was well received and popular in London.
Throughout 2005, Rickman received treatment for an aggressive form of prostate cancer, culminating in a prostatectomy in January 2006. The operation coincided with the casting for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and he deliberated over whether to return to the series, but decided in favour, stating: "The argument that wins is the one that says: 'See it through. It’s your story.'"
In August 2015, Rickman had a minor stroke, which led to the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He revealed that he had terminal cancer to only his closest confidants. On 14 January 2016, he died in London at the age of 69. His remains were cremated on 3 February 2016 in the West London Crematorium in Kensal Green. His ashes were given to his wife, Rima Horton. His final two films, Eye in the Sky and Alice Through the Looking Glass, were dedicated to his memory, as was The Limehouse Golem, which would have been his next project.
Soon after his death, his fans created a memorial underneath the "Platform 9¾" sign at London King's Cross railway station. His death has been compared to that of David Bowie, a fellow British cultural figure who died at the same age as Rickman four days earlier; like Rickman, Bowie died of cancer and kept his cancer diagnosis from the public.
Tributes from Rickman's co-stars and contemporaries appeared on social media following the announcement. Since his cancer was not publicly known, some—like Ralph Fiennes, who "cannot believe he is gone", and Jason Isaacs, who was "sidestepped by the awful news"—expressed their surprise. Sir Michael Gambon told BBC Radio 4 he was a "great friend" and "a real man of the theatre and the stage". At a West End performance of the play that made him a star (Les Liaisons Dangereuses), he was remembered as "a great man of the British theatre".
Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling called Rickman "a magnificent actor and a wonderful man." Emma Watson wrote, "I feel so lucky to have worked and spent time with such a special man and actor. I'll really miss our conversations." Daniel Radcliffe appreciated his loyalty and support: "I'm pretty sure he came and saw everything I ever did on stage both in Britain and America. He didn't have to do that." Evanna Lynch said it was scary to bump into Rickman in character as Snape, but "he was so kind and generous in the moments he wasn't Snaping about." Rupert Grint said, "even though he has gone I will always hear his voice." Johnny Depp, who co-starred with Rickman in two Tim Burton films, commented, "That voice, that persona. There's hardly anyone unique anymore. He was unique."
Kate Winslet, who gave a tearful tribute at the London Film Critics' Circle Awards, remembered Rickman as warm and generous, adding, "And that voice! Oh, that voice." Dame Helen Mirren said his voice "could suggest honey or a hidden stiletto blade". Emma Thompson remembered "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 ... I learned a lot from him." Colin Firth told The Hollywood Reporter that, as an actor, Rickman had been a mentor. John McTiernan, director of Die Hard, said Rickman was the antithesis of the villainous roles for which he was most famous on screen. Sir Ian McKellen wrote, "behind [Rickman's] mournful face, which was just as beautiful when wracked with mirth, there was a super-active spirit, questing and achieving, a super-hero, unassuming but deadly effective." Writer/director Kevin Smith told a tearful 10-minute story about Rickman on his Hollywood Babble On podcast. Rickman's family offered their thanks "for the messages of condolence".
An edited collection of Rickman's diaries from 1993 to 2015 was published in 2022 under the title Madly, Deeply: The Alan Rickman Diaries.
On 30 April 2023, search engine Google commemorated Rickman with a Doodle.
Alan Rickman met future economist and politician Rima Horton, it was 1965 and they were just teenagers.
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