Richard Harris dead at 72

Oct 26, 2002 by Ian Evans

Richard Harris, who entertained fans starting in the ’60s up to his two recent Harry Potter films, has died in hospital at the age of 72.

Sometimes we report these stories and the words are just facts and figures and onscreen memories. We attended a press conference with Richard a couple of days after the 9/11/01 attacks and shared an hour with a great actor and storyteller.

Richard has been at University College Hospital in London where he was receiving treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease.

Young moviegoers know him as Professor Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the soon to be released Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He told an interviewer that his young granddaughter convinced him to take the role.

“She called me and said, ‘If you don’t do it, papa, I’ll never speak to you again,’ and I thought, I can’t afford that. I have to do it.”

Like contemporaries Peter O’Toole and Albert Finney, Harris had as much a reputation offscreen as he did on. Critic Clive Barnes once said these British actors were a new breed who were “rougher, tougher, fiercer, angrier and more passionately articulate than their well-groomed predecessors…roaring boys, sometimes with highly colored private lives and lurid public images.”

He was twice nominated for a Best Actor Oscar®, once for his role in Lindsay Anderson’s 1963 This Sporting Life and then in director Jim Sheridan’s excellent 1990 film, The Field. He also received an Emmy nomination for 1971’s The Snow Goose.

In the last decade, he appeared in two Best Picture winners, 1992’s Unforgiven and 2000’s Gladiator.

Unforgiven director Clint Eastwood said that, Richard was wonderful to work with — a slightly mad Irishman and a truly gifted performer. His presence on the set during the filming of Unforgiven always gave all of us a much needed lift during the many hours of difficult work on that film. We’ve lost a wonderful actor and a man with a great deal of courage.

Other films in the Harris filmography include A Man Called Horse, Major Dundee, Hawaii, The Molly Maguires and Cromwell.

In 1967, he took the musical Camelot to the screen opposite Vanessa Redgrave. Though not the world’s greatest singer, he did have a hit record with the lengthy song “MacArthur Park” which has often been parodied by the likes of SCTV and The Simpsons. After giving up films for a while in the 1980s, Richard also toured with a stage version of Camelot from 1986 to 1989.