Death has claimed another towering icon of stage and screen, as well as a remarkable, sensitive, memorable, legendary human being. Alan Rickman, creator of so many memorable roles on stage and screen, has lost his battle with cancer. He was 69.
As versatile an actor as any, he could bring casual power to any role, making any character seem more vast and more articulated than written. His smooth, sonorous voice carried the deep currents of emotion his characters required, from his breakout role of Hans Gruber in Die Hard, through an unusual role as an actor playing an alien in Galaxy Quest, to his remarkable and unforgettable portrayal of potions master Severus Snape in eight Harry Potter films.
To summarize Rickman’s accomplishments in just a few geek culture fan favorites would be an onerous disservice to his memory. He began his career with the theater at the age of 26, when he left a graphic design studio (“Grafiti”) he had opened with several friends to become assistant manager at the small Basement Theater Company. He sent a letter to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art asking for an audition, and to his great surprise, he was accepted. After graduation, he worked for a number of repertoire companies before becoming a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, but left after a season, disillusioned by the company and declaring that he wanted to “learn how to talk to other actors on stage rather than bark at them.”
His foray into television began with a portrayal of Tybalt in a BBC production of Romeo and Juliet in 1978, but returned to the stage with a starring role in Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses as Vicomte de Valmont. The show transferred to the West End and then on to Broadway, where he one the first of two Tony nominations. Rickman wouldn’t become a household name until 1988, when he took the role of the scheming and calculation terrorist Hans Gruber in Die Hard, and it made him internationally famous.
One of his favorite roles was that of Severus Snape. “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. “The shadow that he casts in these films is a huge one and the emotion he conveys is immeasurable.”
Rickman passed away in London last Thursday, surrounded by family. He is survived by his wife Rima Horton, who he met as a teenager in art school and married in New York last year.
He had completed several films before his death, including Eye in the Sky, about drone warfare in Kenya, due for release in March, and Tim Burton’s Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Good night, Mr. Rickman. The world is better for your having traveled through it.