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Effortlessly urbane British actor Alan Rickman enjoyed a distinguished stage career with the Royal Shakespeare Company prior to winning international acclaim in dozens of film and television projects. Following years of work on U.K. television, the actor was instantly entered into the pantheon of all-time movie villains with his portrayal of German terrorist Hans Gruber in the action classic "Die Hard" (1988). Roles like the scheming Sheriff of Nottingham in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (1991) may have threatened to typecast the award-winning actor, although his romantic lead in "Sense and Sensibility" (1995) convinced audiences of his versatility. Offering further proof, Rickman won an Emmy for his portrayal of the mad Russian monk in the acclaimed biopic "Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny" (HBO, 1996), followed by sardonically comic turns in Kevin Smith's controversial "Dogma" (1999) and the sci-fi spoof "Galaxy Quest" (1999). The role of a lifetime came Rickman's way when he played the morally ambiguous wizard Professor Severus Snape for the first time in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001) and all seven blockbuster sequels. He charmed in real world fare amidst ensemble casts in efforts like "Love Actually" (2003) and became a go-to talent for director Tim Burton in the hits "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (2007) and "Alice in Wonderland" (2010). He also directed and co-wrote two films, "The Winter Guest" (1997) and "A Little Chaos" (2015). Rickman's exquisite voice, dramatic command, and languid, cool presence made him a national treasure in his homeland, as well as an honored guest on American screens. Alan Rickman died of cancer in London on January 14, 2016. He was 69.
Rickman was born on Feb. 21, 1946, in Hammersmith, London, into a working class home. Displaying a talent for art as a child, Rickman earned a scholarship to a private school that positioned him well to go on to the Chelsea College of Art and Design. He enjoyed a successful career in the graphic design world during London's swinging 1960s, even co-founding a design company. But eventually he succumbed to his love of theater and in 1972, was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He studied there for two years, during which time his talent was recognized with a number of drama prizes. Rickman's subsequent stage career took off rather quickly, and during the remainder of the 1970s, he appeared with The Royal Shakespeare Company in such productions as "The Tempest" and "Love's Labour's Lost," and as Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet" (1979). He expanded his repertoire with appearances all over the UK in a range of pieces, from Chekov's "The Seagull" to the screwball comedy "The Philadelphia Story." He landed British TV roles in the terrifying miniseries "Therese Raquin" (BBC, 1981) and the amusing "Barchester Chronicles" (BBC, 1984), then returned to the Royal Shakespeare Company in another string of productions including "Mephisto" and "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," earning acclaim as the elegant, heartless seducer Le Vicomte de Valmont. From a successful run on London's West End, the production went to Broadway in 1987 where Rickman was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance.
A seasoned stage player with relatively zero screen experience, Rickman was fortunate to be cast in the big budget Hollywood action film, "Die Hard"(1988). His memorable film debut as the vicious German terrorist Hans Gruber, who taunts hero John McLane (Bruce Willis) as he makes his way to the top of the office building where his wife (Bonnie Bedelia) is being held prisoner, piqued the interest of filmmakers in the U.S. and UK. So impressive was his villainous turn, Rickman was next offered a supporting role as Kevin Kline's artsy pal in "The January Man" (1989) and as a tyrannical landowner in "Quigley Down Under" (1990). He made for an engaging, if deceased, romantic lead in Anthony Minghella's ghostly love story, "Truly, Madly, Deeply" (1990), before returning to the dark side as a sadistic interrogator in "Closet Land" (1991). In 1991, Rickman virtually stole the hugely budgeted "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" from its miscast star Kevin Costner, delightfully tearing into the scenery as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and winning a BAFTA Award in the process. Next, he co-starred in the low-budget British drama "Close My Eyes" (1991) as a man whose girlfriend has an incestuous relationship with her brother, and essayed the campaign manager of a deceptive political candidate (Tim Robbins) in the satirical "Bob Roberts" (1992). Never one to stay away from the theater for long, Rickman took some time off from his new film career to offer performances in "Hamlet" and "Tango at the End of Winter" on the London stage in 1991 and 1992.
His years in the theater made Rickman an excellent casting choice for the Irish film "An Awfully Big Adventure" (1995), in which he starred as an actor in a ramshackle repertory theater company. That same year, he successfully reinvented himself as a romantic lead, playing Kate Winslet's dark, smoldering suitor in the Emma Thompson-scripted and Ang Lee-directed "Sense and Sensibility" (1995). From that internationally loved costume drama that earned Rickman a BAFTA nomination, he went on to garner Emmy and Golden Globe awards for portraying the enigmatic Russian mystic "Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny" (1996) in the HBO television movie. The same year, Rickman directed a film adaptation of "The Winter's Guest" starring Emma Thompson - a piece he had directed several years earlier for the London stage - and supported Liam Neeson in Neil Jordan's biopic of Irish revolutionary, "Michael Collins" (1996). Teaming with frequent collaborator Emma Thompson yet again, Rickman and the actress-director made a lively showing as a pair of detectives trailing bumbling kidnappers in "Judas Kiss" (1998). Also in 1998, Rickman earned kudos for playing Antony to Helen Mirren's Cleopatra in a Royal National Theater production of "Antony and Cleopatra."
Onscreen, anyway, Rickman devoted the year 1999 to comedy; first as Metaron, an angel who appears inside a pillar of fire only to be doused with a fire extinguisher in "Dogma" (1999), writer-director Kevin Smith's comedic pillorying of religious doctrine. He reached tremendous comic heights in the "Star Trek"-skewering comedy "Galaxy Quest" (1999), starring as the bitter, Leonard Nimoy-esque actor Alexander Dane, a serious Shakespearean thespian who resents being typecast on a cheesy sci-fi TV show. Keeping things light, Rickman voiced the titular sea creature in the Danish animated film "Help, I'm a Fish!" (2000) and took the lead in "Blow Dry" (2001), an amiable, bittersweet British comedy from "Full Monty" writer Simon Beaufoy and director Paddy Breathnach, playing a former world champion hair stylist who has become a small-town barber taunted for his lack of achievement by his former rivals. While that film was in theaters, Rickman returned to the stage in London and New York with runs in Noel Coward's romantic comedy "Private Lives," which was nominated for a Tony Award.
Rickman next tackled a part which, while relatively small, made him an icon in the minds of a young generation of book lovers and movieg rs. He essayed the skulking, seemingly malevolent Professor Severus Snape in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001). He repeated the scene-stealing role the following year in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (2002). While that pair of blockbusters made Rickman unmistakably recognized by mainstream audiences the world over, he continued to explore all kinds of onscreen territory. He joined the large ensemble of writer-director Richard Curtis' popular romantic comedy "Love Actually" (2003), as a man contemplating being unfaithful to his wife (Emma Thompson), and portrayed the heart surgery pioneer Alfred Blalock in the acclaimed HBO film, "Something the Lord Made" (2004). Reminding audiences of his ability to play for laughs, he voiced Marvin, the manic depressive robot with a brain the size of a planet who has been relegated to menial tasks by his far less intelligent human masters in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (2005), the film version of Douglas Adams' sci-fi masterwork.
Rickman reprised his role as Professor Snape in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2005), the first of the film franchise to be helmed by a British director (Mike Newell). There were far fewer tots and teens in the audience for "Zodiac" (2005), about a serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco area during the 1960s and 1970s, and "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" (2006). "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007) was another blockbuster, with many critics lauding it as the best offering of the series so far, with Variety hailing that for his latest performance as Severus, Rickman had really "outdone himself." The same year, Rickman gave a chilling performance as bullish Judge Turpin in Tim Burton's lush gothic musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (2007). In a rare leading performance, Rickman played an adventurous wine shop owner credited with introducing American wines into the European market during the 1970s in the fact-based "Bottle Shock" (2007). In 2009, Rickman's Snape character was promoted from Potions master to teacher of Defense Against the Dark Arts in the sequel "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" (2009), in addition to revealing a crucial personal detail that would figure into future sequels. The following year Tim Burton recruited Rickman again for his psychedelic version of "Alice in Wonderland" (2010), tapping the actor's admired voice to play The Caterpillar. On television, Rickman delivered yet another sublime performance, this time opposite Emma Thompson in "The Song of Lunch" (BBC, 2010), the tale of a bittersweet reunion between two lovers, told almost entirely with a poetic monologue, narrated by Rickman's character. He then completed his tour of duty as Professor Severus Snape in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 & 2" (2010, 2011), the final two installments of the franchise. Positioned as one of the primary antagonists throughout the series, Rickman ultimately revealed the true complex nature of the much-maligned wizard as only he could in an emotionally charged climactic scene of the final film.
Returning to the big screen following the conclusion of that blockbuster series, Rickman co-starred with Colin Firth in the small-scale crime comedy "Gambit" (2012) and appeared as Ronald Reagan in "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (2013). A much different historical role came as punk rock bar owner Hilly Kristal in the critically-derided "CBGB" (2013). After starring in the prewar romantic drama "A Promise" (2013), Rickman co-wrote and directed his second film, the Versailles-set romantic drama "A Little Chaos" (2015), in which he also co-starred as Louis XIV opposite Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts. In the final film released during his lifetime, Rickman co-starred opposite Helen Mirren in the war drama "Eye in the Sky" (2015). Alan Rickman died of cancer on January 14, 2016 in his hometown of London. He was 69 years old.
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Made American TV debut as Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet" for "The Shakespeare Plays" on PBS
Joined the Royal Shakespeare Company
Originated role of Le Vicomte de Valmont in RSC's West End production of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" opposite Lindsay Duncan; reprised the role in the RSC's production on Broadway in 1987; earned a Tony Award nomination for his performance
Made feature acting debut in "Die Hard" as German terrorist Hans Gruber
Starred opposite Juliet Stevenson in Anthony Minghella's "Truly Madly Deeply"
Starred as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Kevin Costner's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"
Gave acclaimed perfomance in title role of HBO movie "Rasputin"; won Emmy Award
Co-starred in the Oscar-winning film version of "Sense and Sensibility"
Made feature directorial debut with "The Winter Guest"; also co-scripted with playwright Sharman MacDonald
Co-starred with Helen Mirren in the London stage production of "Antony and Cleopatra"
Played an angel in Kevin Smith's comedy "Dogma"
Reteamed on stage with Lindsay Duncan for a revival of Noel Coward's "Private Lives"
Cast as Professor Snape in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the film adaptation of the first novel of the best-selling fantasy series by J.K. Rowling
Again played Professor Snape in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"
Starred in the romantic comedy-drama "Love Actually"
Reprised role of Professor Snape in, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," the third book in the 'Harry Potter' series
Starred opposite Mos Def in the HBO drama "Something the Lord Made"; a dramatization of the relationship between heart surgery pioneers Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas; earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Actor in a TV Movie
Reprised role of Professor Snape in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"; adapted from the fourth book in the fantasy series by J.K. Rowling and directed by Mike Newell
Directed the play "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" at the Royal Court Theatre in London; based on the writings of the 23 year old American woman who was killed on March 16, 2003 by an Israeli Army bulldozer
Played the lecherous Judge Turpin, opposite Johnny Depp, in Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
Reprised the role of Professor Snape in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth book in the fantasy series
Co-starred with Sigourney Weaver in the drama, "Snow Cake"
Portrayed English wine expert Steven Spurrier in "Bottle Shock"
Reprised the role of Professor Snape in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth book in the fantasy series directed by David Yates
Re-teamed with Tim Burton to play the Caterpillar in "Alice in Wonderland"
Reprised role of Professor Snape for the seventh and final installment of the series directed by David Yates, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"; film released in two parts, Part 1 in November 2010 and Part 2 in July 2011
Cast in the world premiere of Theresa Rebeck's "Seminar" on Broadway
Co-starred with Colin Firth in crime comedy "Gambit"
Appeared in "Lee Daniels' The Butler" as Ronald Reagan
Co-starred in romantic drama "A Promise"
Starred in punk biopic "CBGB" as bar owner Hilly Kristal
Directed, co-wrote and starred in period romance "A Little Chaos"
Co-starred with Helen Mirren in war drama "Eye in the Sky," the final film he released in his lifetime
Reprised role of Caterpillar in "Alice: Through The Looking Glass," the 2016 sequel to Tim Burton's "Alice In Wonderland."