Alan Rickman, the British actor best known in Hollywood for playing dastardly heavies like Hans Gruber in Die Hard and Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, has died. His representative in London confirmed a Guardian report that the 69-year-old actor had lost his battle with cancer.
The classically trained actor came to New York with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1987; he was nominated for a Tony for his role as Vicomte de Valmont. Though John Malkovich got the role when the film adaptation was made in 1988, Rickman quickly found a place in Hollywood. In Die Hard, he played the slick and charming thief who planned the perfect crime, if only Bruce Willis’ barefooted John McClane wasn’t roaming around the Nakatomi Plaza highrise.
RELATED: Alan Rickman’s Best Roles
It was Rickman who came up with the idea that his master criminal be smartly dressed, a suggestion which had major ramifications for director John McTiernan’s action classic. ”When I first met Bruce Willis, I thought it would be interesting if these characters could have a mutual respect for each other, even making each other laugh at times,” Rickman told Entertainment Weekly in 1991. “Instead of looking like a terrorist wearing a T-shirt and a windbreaker, why not put on a suit? That made us opposites. As an idea it had repercussions: It made it possible for [Willis’ character and mine] to meet, and I could pretend to be one of my own hostages.”
Rickman was so good as Gruber that he became a go-to villain, in films like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Sweeney Todd, and of course the Harry Potter franchise. The actor’s performance as Snape in the latter introduced him to a new generation of fans and proved an inspiration to at least one fellow cast member. “I got the part, and I thought, ‘I’d better watch what the first one was like,’” Jason Isaacs, who played Lucius Malfoy in the series, told EW in 2010. “And then I realized to my horror that Alan Rickman was in the first film, and utterly brilliant. Nobody does sinister like Alan Rickman. I thought, ‘If I’m going to do something, it’d better be unbelievably extreme.’”
But Rickman was far more than just a brilliantly malevolent big screen presence. He was a remarkably versatile actor, as capable of playing a tetchy angel, as he did in Kevin Smith’s controversial 1999 comedy Dogma, as he was portraying the restrained, seemingly dull Colonel Brandon in Ang Lee’s 1995 Jane Austen adaptation, Sense and Sensibility. Rickman’s other film credits include Truly Madly Deeply, Bob Roberts, Michael Collins, and Love Actually.
RELATED: Alan Rickman’s Life in Pictures
Rickman also directed, both theater and fillms, most recently A Little Chaos, in which he co-starred as Louis XIV opposite Kate Winslet.
Rickman is survived by his wife, Rima Horton.
Those who have paid tribute to Rickman since his death was confirmed include J.K. Rowling. “There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman’s death,” the Harry Potter author wrote on Twitter earlier today. “He was a magnificent actor & a wonderful man. My thoughts are with Rima and the rest of Alan’s family. We have all lost a great talent. They have lost part of their hearts.”