ALAN Rickman, one of the giants of British acting, has died aged 69, following a battle with cancer.
Rickman, a classical actor who was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, was best known for playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and for his performances as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film series.
But he also starred as the Reverend Obadiah Slope in the BBC’s adaptation of Barchester Towers, and in 1985, played Vicomte de Valmont, in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
He rose to stardom in 1988 when he played Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis’s adversary, in Die Hard.
A family statement said: “The actor and director Alan Rickman has died from cancer at the age of 69. He was surrounded by family and friends.”
His death comes just months ahead of the release of a new film called Eye In The Sky in which he stars alongside Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul.
The star had also completed another film set for release later this year called Alice Through The Looking Glass.
Rickman will be warmly remembered by his legions of fans as the quintessential on-screen “baddie”.
With his languid voice and sharp features, he was well-equipped to play villainous characters in films including Harry Potter, Die Hard and Rasputin - but he was also a consummate stage actor.
By the time he starred in the first Harry Potter film in 2001, he was already well-known for his brilliance in darker roles.
He first shot to global acclaim in 1988 when he starred as Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis’s adversary in Die Hard.
Rickman picked up a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award for his leading role in 1995 film Rasputin, and his turn as the outrageous sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves earned him a Bafta.
However, the “baddies” were not all he could turn his hand to. As a leading man, he starred with Juliet Stevenson in supernatural romance Truly, Madly, Deeply, and he also attracted critical acclaim for his role as the honourable Colonel Brandon in Sense And Sensibility, opposite Emma Thompson.
His acting partnership with Thompson also led to roles in 2003’s Love, Actually, in which they played husband and wife, and BBC drama The Song Of Lunch.
Like many British actors, Rickman’s career began on the stage after he graduated from drama school Rada, and he frequently returned to the stage throughout his career.
Hailing from a working-class London family, he supported himself as a dresser before finding work with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
His breakthrough role came two years before he appeared in Die Hard, when he was cast as the cruel and manipulative seducer Le Vicomte in the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1986. This earned him a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play and was an indication of his talent at playing the part of the villain.
In 2002, he received acclaim for his part in Noel Coward’s Private Lives, a play which transferred to Broadway after a successful London run.
Though he never won an Oscar, Rickman did not view it as a snub. “Parts win prizes, not actors,” he told US television network IFC in 2008.
The actor quietly wed his partner of 50 years, economics lecturer and Labour councillor Rima Horton, in 2012. They had been together since they met as teenagers and had no children.
Rickman will make a final screen appearance in a new film titled Eye In The Sky, due for release later this year, in which he stars opposite Dame Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul - and fans will be able to hear him as the voice of the Blue Caterpillar in Alice Through The Looking Glass.
Stars reacted with shock to the news of his death. Harry Potter actor James Phelps, who played Fred Weasley, tweeted: “One of the nicest actors I’ve ever met. Thoughts and prayers with his family at this time.”
TV star Stephen Fry wrote: “What desperately sad news about Alan Rickman. A man of such talent, wicked charm & stunning screen & stage presence. He’ll be sorely missed.”
Rickman was a card carrying Labour supporter, and party leader Jeremy Corbyn expressed his sadness on Twitter, writing: “Very sad to hear that Alan Rickman has passed away. One of the greatest actors of his generation. My thoughts are with his family & friends.”
In 1995 Rickman was named by Empire magazine among the 100 sexiest film stars. In 2012 he married his long-time girlfriend Rima Horton at a ceremony in New York. The two had been in a relationship since they met when he was 19 and she was 18.
Asked last year what the secret of his successful relationship was, though they were not married, he replied: “We are married, just recently.”
He added: “It was great because no one was there. After the wedding in New York, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and ate lunch.”
Rickman, who was also a film-maker, said JK Rowling’s long-running Harry Potter series prevented him from returning to the director’s chair for almost two decades.
He directed and starred as French King Louis XIV alongside Kate Winslet in A Little Chaos, and on the red carpet at the Scottish premiere of the film last February, he said he had no idea Rowling’s saga would stretch to six novels and seven films when he took the role of Severus Snape in 2001.
“I wasn’t free until now because I started doing Harry Potter, and when I started there were only three books written so I didn’t know I was going to be unable (to direct),” he said.
“Because if you’re going to direct a film it’s over a year of your life and I didn’t have that.
“So once I had finished with that series of films I was free, and then along came this wonderful script.”
A Little Chaos was the star’s second outing behind the camera, 18 years after he directed Emma Thompson in Scotland-based drama The Winter Guest.
Rickman was born on a council estate in West London and later studied graphic design at Chelsea College of Art, eventually opening a graphics design business.
But at age 26, his love of theatre earned him an audition with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.