Alan Rickman has sadly died. In the week that we also lost Bowie, it is a massive shock to British culture and although we mythologise them in our minds as eternal superhumans, it is a sorrowful reminder that our icons cannot live forever.
Rickman has been a national emblem for British stage and screen for over 30 years. Born in London, he began his acting career on stage. After graduating from RADA he had early successes with the RSC including the 1985 production of Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses with his role as the predatory Vicomte de Valmont. The performance won him a Tony Award when the production moved to Broadway and established him as a pivotal figure within the Royal Shakespeare Company. Rickman returned to playing many Shakespeare productions throughout his life, including the role of Antony alongside Helen Mirren as Cleopatra at the National Theatre in 1998.
He proved to be a magnificent stage director throughout his career
Rickman was perhaps best known for capturing the perfect qualities of a villain. His arched features and languid diction that was almost purr like (greatly captured when he voiced the Absalom the Caterpillar in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) were distinctively recognisable across the generations. For many people his most iconic role as Professor Snape in all eight of the Harry Potter films will be the biggest legacy he leaves behind. A decade of his career was devoted to crafting this complex character, whose transition from villainous potion master to “probably the bravest man” Harry knew truly captured the imagination and hearts of fans. The role within the film franchise certainly earned him a new legion of fans, who will “always” remember him fondly.
But as well as bringing to life the character of Snape, Rickman has been triumphant in many other roles. 13 years prior to his role as the Professor, Rickman took on the role of Hans Grubec, a sarcastic, deceitful adversary to Bruce Willis’s character (John McClane), in Die Hard which established him as a household name. Rickman’s marvellous portrayal of Gruber led to him establishing a villain ‘fashion’ that numerous screen villains attempted to emulate in the years following. It was the first villainous role Rickman took on and propelled his career at age 41. His performance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves exemplifies Rickman’s ability to transform what starts as a relatively unpleasant character, into an outrageously wicked yet brilliant Sheriff of Nottingham, so much so that he bagged a BAFTA for it.
Rickman has been a national emblem for British stage and screen for over 30 years.
He also acts a more unconventional “baddie” as Harry in Love Actually, playing the husband that infamously cheats on Emma Thompson’s character (Karen). I’m sure nobody will forget the scene of Thompson left crying in their bedroom listening to Joni Mitchell. Rickman appeared alongside Thompson in several other productions, such as Sense and Sensibility in which Rickman starred as the brilliant Colonel Brandon. In 1995 Rickman made his directional debut with the acclaimed Scottish drama The Winter Guest which starred Thompson and her mother. Their dynamic chemistry made them the perfect duo on screen and it is Rickman’s ability to be so villainously charming that makes him such a compelling talent alongside Thompson’s warm and loving presence. He proved to be a magnificent stage director throughout his career, most recently with the film A Little Chaos in 2014.
During his career Rickman won a BAFTA, Golden Globe award, an Emmy and a SAG Award. His death will come as a shock to many of us and he is seen as one of the greatest actors of his generation. He sadly leaves behind partner of 35 years Rima Horton, whom he met when he was just 19 – they privately married in 2012 in New York. 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 film is due to open in Britain on 8th April.