Actor Alan Rickman, star of British film and theater, died Thursday at the age of 69. The BBC News shared a brief statement from Rickman’s family, who said the actor had been privately battling cancer.
Born in London on February 21, 1946, Rickman studied at the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art before becoming a fixture of British theater, working with various repertory and experimental theatre groups. Following his Tony-nominated performance in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Rickman crossed over to film and became branded into the American pop-culture consciousness as Hans Gruber in 1988’s Die Hard. His villainous turn was made especially memorable by the nuance he brought to it—Rickman played Gruber as an intelligent, albeit devious leader and schemer. In Gruber’s tense first meeting with John McClane (Bruce Willis), we watch the wool slip off of McClane’s eyes as he realizes just who he’s speaking with.
Despite his presence—and that voice—Rickman wasn’t relegated to European bad-guy roles. Although he did star as the Sheriff Of Nottingham in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, he balanced his repertoire by also appearing in more romantic roles. In Anthony Minghella’s Truly, Madly, Deeply, Rickman played the husband and ghost that British prestige-drama fixture Juliet Stevenson couldn’t quite give up. And in Ang Lee’s adaptation of Sense And Sensibility, Rickman played the noble (in every sense of the word) Colonel Brandon opposite Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson.
Rickman also took on historical fare, starring as the titular would-be healer in HBO’s Rasputin: Dark Servant Of Destiny, as well as joining Liam Neeson in Michael Collins in 1996. It was Rickman’s portrayal of the Russian mystic who became a confidante to tsar Nicholas II earned him a Golden Globe and an Emmy, but he changed gears again and moved into comedy with a role in Galaxy Quest. Rickman played Sir Alexander Dane, a once-great actor who despaired of the change of circumstance that led to his role in the eponymous beloved sci-fi show. The role was effective self-parody (to an extent), and it was delightful.
Though he would assume the mantle of antagonist again in later work, Rickman never played a stock villain character. This is perhaps most obvious in his portrayal of Severus Snape, which is arguably his most recognizable role, in the Harry Potter films. As Snape, Rickman was enigmatic and tragic, heartbroken and conflicted. It took a while to uncover just what was the source of his enmity for Harry, but it was an investment that paid out in spades.
Even as the Harry Potter saga unfolded on screen, Rickman continued to indulge his sardonic side with roles in Dogma and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. He also did plenty of voice work, such as providing the mopey sentiments of Marvin The Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, as well as the irritated queries of The Blue Caterpillar in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland. And all the while, he continued to perform and direct live theater, including productions of The Winter’s Guest and Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman. Rickman’s final film appearances include roles in the upcoming Eye In The Sky and Alice Through The Looking Glass.