Alan Rickman, the deep-voiced stage and screen actor who began his Hollywood film career as “Die Hard” (1989) villain Hans Gruber, and made his name with a new generation of filmgoers as the black-haired potions master Severus Snape in eight “Harry Potter” films, died in London Thursday after suffering from cancer. He was 69.
Coming just days after the musician David Bowie, also 69, succumbed to cancer, Rickman’s death marks a second major blow to the British arts and entertainment world this week.
Rickman first distinguished himself as a seductive leading man in London’s West End, turning in a breakthrough 1986 performances as Valmont, in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” and he remained a lifelong devotee of the theatre. Hollywood, perhaps to its discredit, largely failed to see his sex appeal, preferring instead to capitalize on his unmatched ability to convey disdain, even menace.
As Gruber, the Sheriff of Nottingham (“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” 1991), Grigori Rasputin (“Rasputin,” 1995), and the wily Snape, Rickman redefined the film villain—he created characters icy, even refined, in their cruelty, to the point that we, the viewer, could imagine between drawn under their sway.
Friend Emma Thompson, with whom he appeared in “Sense and Sensibility” (1995), as Col. Brandon, and directed in his first feature behind the camera, “The Winter Guest” (1997), wrote of Rickman following the news of his death:
What I remember most in this moment of painful leave-taking
is his humour, intelligence, wisdom and kindness. His capacity to fell you with
a look or lift you with a word. 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, and the fact that he never spared me the view. I
learned a lot from him. He was the finest of actors and directors. I couldn’t
wait to see what he was going to do with his face next. I consider myself
hugely privileged to have worked with him so many times and to have been
directed by him.
He was the ultimate ally. In life, art and politics. I
trusted him absolutely. He was, above all things, a rare and unique human being
and we shall not see his like again.
Rickman, whose second feature as director, “A Little Chaos,” premiered in 2014, appears most recently in “Eye in the Sky.” His final role, as the voice of the Blue Caterpillar in “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” is due later this year.