Actor Richard Harris Dies At Age 72
LONDON (Reuters) – Oscar-nominated Irish actor Richard Harris, whose stage and screen roles ranged from King Arthur of “Camelot” to the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in “Harry Potter” films, died on Friday at age 72.
Harris, for years one of the hard-drinking wild men of the stage and screen along with British compatriots Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, died in a London hospital after a battle with Hodgkin’s disease, a form of lymphatic cancer.
Familiar in later years for his shaggy white mane of hair, Harris made his name with such films as “Camelot,” “This Sporting Life,” and “A Man Called Horse” as he carved out a distinctive acting niche for himself.
But like Burton and O’Toole, Harris gained as much notoriety for his hell-raising off-stage exploits as for his acting talents, though he swore off alcohol in the 1980s.
Harris, who was twice married and twice divorced, told Reuters in an interview last year: “I have made 72 movies in my life and been miscast twice — as a husband.”
The Limerick, Ireland-born actor with a habitual twinkle in his eye endeared himself to a new generation of fans with his role as the benevolent wizard, Professor Albus Dumbledore, in last year’s big-screen fantasy hit “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
It was a role he initially turned down, but was then nagged into taking it by his 11-year-old granddaughter, Emily, who threatened never to talk to him again if he refused.
“She called me up and said, ‘Poppa, if you don’t play Dumbledore, I will never speak to you again.’ I hung up and called my agent and said I’d do it. I can’t afford to lose that kid,” he said at the time.
A brief statement from his three children announced his death.
“With great sadness, Damien, Jared and Jamie Harris announce the death of their beloved father, Richard Harris. He died peacefully at University College Hospital.”
At a news conference earlier in the day to launch the second Harry Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” producer David Heyman said he and director Christopher Columbus had recently visited Harris in the hospital and he appeared to be fighting back.
“He did threaten to kill me if I recast (Professor Dumbledore). I cannot even repeat what he said. He still has got that fight inside of him,” Columbus said.
Harris earned two Oscar nominations during his film career, once for his breakthrough 1963 supporting role as a bitter young coal miner who becomes a professional rugby star in “This Sporting Life” and again nearly 30 years later for his comeback role as an elderly curmudgeon determined to hold on to his property in the 1990 drama “The Field.”
Other film credits included the role of King Arthur in the 1967 movie adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe musical “Camelot” and the portrayal of an English aristocrat captured and tortured by Sioux Indians in the 1970 western “A Man Called Horse.”
Harris, whose gravelly voice made him an unlikely pop star — despite his singing role in “Camelot” — confounded critics by scoring a hit in 1968 with a recording of “MacArthur Park.”
Harris spent several years on the British stage, including a London production of “View from the Bridge,” before making his movie debut in the 1958 film “Alive and Kicking.”
In addition to his film performance in “Camelot,” he starred in stage revivals of the show, including a career-reviving turn as King Arthur after Richard Burton fell ill at the end of a 1982 tour. Harris ended up sticking with the tour for five years.
Other stage shows included “The Ginger Man,”” “Diary of a Madman” and a 1990 London run of “Henry V,” which won several awards.
The actor, who long had a reputation as a hell-raiser, has said publicly he gave up drinking in 1982, going cold turkey after a “farewell” celebration in which he and friends indulged in two $370 bottles of Chateau Margaux.
“When the bottle was empty, and I had this much left in my glass, I looked at my watch, and it was 20 past 11, and I said, ‘This is my last drink.’ And I never touched the stuff again,” he told the New York Times in a 1990 interview.
Here’s hoping he’s remembered for being more than just Professor Dumbledore from the Harry Potter films.