Irish actor Richard Harris, whose half century in films included memorable lead performances in such movies as ”Camelot” and ”The Field,” died Friday at age 72 after a two-month battle against Hodgkin’s disease, his three children said in a statement. Word of his death, which occurred at UniversityCollege of London Hospital, where he’d been undergoing chemotherapy treatments since August, came less than two weeks after his agent confirmed that the actor had been fighting cancer. The agent had said Harris was expected to be well enough to reprise his role as Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the third Harry Potter movie, which is to shoot early next year. Instead, next month’s ”Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” will mark his final appearance in the role.
Harris starred in dozens of movies, making his mark in the 1960s with an Oscar-nominated lead role in ”This Sporting Life” (1963) and as a frisky King Arthur in the musical ”Camelot” (1967), a role he later reprised on Broadway and London’s West End. In 1968, he also had a hit single with Jimmy Webb’s ”Macarthur Park.” Notable hits in the 1970s and 1980s included the three ”A Man Called Horse” Westerns. In 1990, he earned another Oscar nomination for his lead role as an Irish farmer in ”The Field,” but after that, he was largely relegated to wily old mentor roles in such films as ”Patriot Games,” ”Gladiator,” ”The Count of Monte Cristo,” and the first two Harry Potter movies.
Harris was a legendary hellraiser and drinker, along with buddies Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. Last year, O’Toole recounted in Entertainment Weekly a recent conversation with Harris, quoting Harris as saying, ”Ah, Jesus, I miss wakin’ up in f—in’ places that you’d never knew you had been to. I used to love going to the shop to buy a packet of cigarettes and not coming back for a month.” Though he had reportedly quit drinking years ago, he remained untamed to the end. Hours before Harris’ death, Chris Columbus, who directed Harris in the first two Potter movies and will produce the third, said at a press conference that the actor still expected to play Dumbledore in ”Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” ”He did threaten to kill me if I recast [Dumbledore],” Columbus said. ”I cannot even repeat what he said. He still has got that fight inside of him.”