Richard Harris, 1930-2002

By Scott Brown and Missy Schwartz
Updated November 08, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

The term hell-raiser doesn’t begin to describe Richard Harris — who, at 72, succumbed to Hodgkin’s disease Oct. 25 in London. The actor was as well known for his bacchanalian adventures with fellow bon vivants Peter O’Toole and the late Richard Burton as he was for such roles as the soulful, singing King Arthur in 1967’s Camelot and, most recently, Prof. Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films.

The Irishman took his work as seriously as his revelry. ”I will remember him in his pajamas, arguing all night over a script or the model for a stage play,” says Jim Sheridan, who directed the actor’s Oscar-nominated turn in 1990’s The Field. Harris (whose career footnotes include singing 1968’s psychedelic ballad ”MacArthur Park”) earned his first Academy nod as a pugnacious athlete in 1963’s This Sporting Life. ”Deep down,” says Sheridan, ”he probably wanted to be a rugby star.”

Twice divorced, twice bankrupt, and twice read last rites (for real), Harris barely survived the ’70s and ’80s, working on subpar fare like Orca and grappling with his fondness for drink and drug. He sobered up, reemerging in the hits Patriot Games and Gladiator.

Despite the bad-boy rep, Harris was a consummate pro. ”He was the most challenging actor I ever met…in a positive way,” says Don Boyd, who directed him as a Lear-like crime lord in the upcoming My Kingdom. ”We had to give him away for a day to Harry Potter, and [a crew member] made the terrible error of giving him the wrong scene [to study]. And he said, ‘Look, I’m certainly not going to shoot a scene I haven’t prepared…. I’m off.’ And he was off.”