The world lost many celebrities in 2016 – from politicians to singers to actors, including stars like Prince, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Anton Yelchin, and Alan Rickman.
Our generation will always remember legendary English actor Alan Rickman for his role as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movie series. He gathered legions of fans following his appearance as the deeply mysterious Snape over the eight movies in the movie franchise.
Alan starred in his first Hollywood movie at the age of 41. The part was that of Hans Gruber, a villain in the movie Die Hard, alongside Bruce Willis. He played several baddies during his career, most notably Hans Gruber, the sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rasputin in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny, and, of course, Severus Snape.
But Alan was an actor with enormous talent and range and was easily able to pull off dramatic, romantic, and even comedic roles as well. Those close to him described him as professional, happy, immensely creative, and very funny.
He passed away in London in January 2016 having been diagnosed with terminal cancer just a few months earlier. Rickman may be gone, but this acting legend lives on in our hearts. Here are a few interesting facts about his incredible life:
15. He Was A Graphic Designer Before He Was An Actor
Watching him on screen or stage you could easily believe that Alan was just born to act but he actually only started acting when he was twenty-eight years old. So what was he doing before that?
Well, Alan didn’t believe that acting was a stable career path for a young man so he attended Chelsea College of Art and Design and then the Royal College of Art where he studied to become a graphic designer. After he graduated, he and a few friends set up their own graphic design studio called Graphiti. He worked there for three years, but it wasn’t quite right for him so decided to try acting professionally. He applied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and was accepted. He worked as dresser to support himself while he studied drama.
14. He Was A One-Woman Man
Alan may have been an older man, but that certainly didn’t detract from his sex appeal. But Alan was no player; he was a one woman kind of guy.
When he was 19 years old, he met Rima Horton, who became his first girlfriend. She went on to become an economics lecturer at Kingston University and a Labor Party counsellor. Alan and Rima lived together from 1977 until his death in 2016.
The pair had been dating for 47 years when they secretly tied the knot in a private ceremony in 2012. Fans were very surprised when he broke the news saying “”We are married. Just recently. It was great because no one was there. After the wedding in New York, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and ate lunch.” Wow, what a love story.
13. His Big Break
Rickman loved the theater and often turned down movie roles to return to the stage. It makes sense as well, seeing as how it was a theater role that gave him his big career break.
The breakout role was that of lead character Le Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1985. The playwright, Christophe Hampton, who adapted the script developed the character with Alan in mind. “Alan was able to transfix not only the viewer but he also seemed to have a kind of hypnotic effect on the people he was playing his scenes with,” Hampton said. Audiences were blown away by his compelling performance in London and Broadway and the part earned him a Tony Award nomination. It also earned him recognition and helped him advance his acting career.
12. Recognition For His Work
Throughout his lifetime Rickman certainly racked up awards, nominations, and accolades. He was nominated for almost every different acting award that exists, including Golden Globes, Scream Awards, Saturn Awards, and Screen Actor Guild Award to name just a few.
He was nominated for four BAFTA awards during his career and in 1991 he netted the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his role in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. In 1996 Alan won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film for Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny. That role also netted him an Emmy the same year. In 2011 he was awarded the MTV World Cup Award for Favorite Harry Potter Character Portrayal for his role as Professor Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.
11. He Kept A Huge Harry Potter Secret For Seven Years
Right after Alan landed the role of Snape in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) J.K. Rowling sat him down and told him some character secrets that were not revealed to the rest of us until the final book. For seven years he was one of very few people who knew that Severus had been in love with Harry’s mother Lily when they were students at Hogwarts. She felt he needed to understand why Severus felt such bitterness toward Harry, who was living proof that the girl he had loved had chosen someone else.
Because he had this background information he could portray Severus perfectly – with just a touch of love beneath that cold exterior. Not even the directors of the films knew about this secret so they just had to trust Rickman with his character direction.
10. He Almost Didn’t Get The Role Of Severus
So here’s something you might not know (unless you are a real die-hard Harry Potter fan): when J.K. Rowling created the character of Snape she actually envisioned Alan Rickman! Imagine how it must have felt for her as first-time author to not only see her story brought to the big screen, but also to get one of the actors she imagined actually planning the role. Gives us all a little hope that dreams can come true right?
But Alan Rickman almost didn’t get the role of Snape. Although he was Rowling’s first choice the studio wanted Tim Roth but he backed out to star in Planet of the Apes instead. No offense to Roth (who is an incredible actor too) but we don’t think anyone could have pulled off Snape as well as Rickman did.
9. He Wasn’t Born With A Silver Spoon In His Mouth
Rickman didn’t have rich, famous parents to help him along with his acting career; he was a self-made man in every way.
Alan was born in West London on the 21st of February 1946 to a working-class family. His mother was a housewife and his father worked in numerous jobs, including decorating, painting houses and working in a factory. He was one of four children, with two brothers and a sister.
When he was just eight years old his father died from lung cancer and his mother struggled to raise her children with little assistance; living on a council estate and working at the Post Office. She did remarry a few years later, but the marriage only lasted for three years.
8. His Death
Rickman suffered a minor stroke in 2015 and while receiving treatment the doctors discovered that he had pancreatic cancer. He chose to keep this information private and only confided in his closest friends that he had a terminal disease. He passed away peacefully on the 14th of January 2016 at the age of 69. The world, already reeling from the news of David Bowie’s death four days before, was devastated. Bowie had also concealed his cancer and was the same age as Rickman when he died. Not long afterwards his loving fans created a touching memorial for him under the “Platform 9¾” sign at London King’s Cross railway station.
Tributes from his co-stars and fellow actors poured in via social media; praising his incredible spirit and immense talent. Many expressed surprise at his death, saying that he had not appeared ill at all.
7. He Hated Being Typecast As A Villain
During Alan Rickman’s acting career, he played a wide range of roles on stage and in movies. He played dramatic and romantic roles such as Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1995) as well as comedic roles like Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, where he voiced depressed robot Marvin, and Metatron – The Voice of God – in the Kevin Smith’s Dogma.
But Alan also played an excellent villain and was often offered these types of roles. But he didn’t like being typecast as a villain and even turned down the role of Alec Treveylan in the James Bond film GoldenEye, saying that he was bored with playing the bad guy. That role eventually went to Sean Bean instead.
6. Raise Your Wand
When news of Alan Rickman’s death broke fans and celebrities alike took to social media to share their sadness at his passing. His fellow Harry Potter stars were among them; Daniel Radcliffe wrote a lengthy post saying that Rickman was “one of the greatest actors I will ever work with” and “one of the loyalist and most supportive people I’ve ever met in the film industry”. J.K. Rowling wrote , “There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman’s death. He was a magnificent actor & a wonderful man”.
Many fans used Twitter to pay tribute to Rickman by uploading photos of them “raising their wands”. This was in reference to a memorable scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where the students point their wands upward to honor the deceased Dumbledore.
5. His Final Films
Alan’s final two film roles were as Lieutenant General Frank Benson in the thriller Eye in the Sky and the voice of Alsolem, the pipe smoking, smooth talking, blue caterpillar in Alice Through the Looking Glass. This Tim Burton film was released after Rickman’s death and was dedicated to his memory.
Over the years he lent his hypnotizing voice to a number of memorable characters in films and TV shows. He appeared as the voice of King Phillip in King of The Hill, Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy, and Joe The Pilot Fish in Help! I’m a Fish. He pulled off all these voice roles superbly but many fans agree that the role of Marvin was the best – they couldn’t have found an actor better able to deliver Marvin’s depressed and droll lines than Alan Rickman.
4. His First Hollywood Role
Soon after his breakout stage performance in Les Liaisons Dangereuses Rickman was offered his first Hollywood film role as evil terrorist Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1998). He almost didn’t take the role because he wasn’t sure it was the type of movie he wanted to make but it helped introduce him to American audiences. Sadly it was also the role that typecast him as a villain.
Later in his life, he joked about being offered this particular role, saying “I got Die Hard because I came cheap. They were paying Bruce Willis $7 million so they had to find people they could pay nothing.” But it didn’t take long before Alan became a sought after actor himself.
3. That Trademark Voice
Alan Rickman often played intellectual characters; sometimes heroic and sometimes villainous, but his most distinctive trademark was his smooth velvety voice and his slow, calm delivery. It was like music to the ears and could make a shiver run down your spine.It sounded perfect and even scientists agree!
Two researchers at Sheffield University (a linguist and a sound engineer) conducted a study in 2008 about voices and found that the perfect voice has the ideal tone, frequency, pitch, and speed. According to their findings, Alan had one of the best voices.
They concluded that the ideal male voice would be Rickman’s combined with Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon, who also starred with Alan in the Harry Potter movies. Contenders for the perfect female voice included Mariella Frostrup and Dame Judi Dench.
2. Gone, But Never Forgotten
It’s been 16 years since the first Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, exploded onto the big screen and sadly quite a few actors who played in the movie series have now passed away. These include Jimmy Gardner who played the driver of the Knight Bus in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Roger Lloyd-Pack who portrayed Barty Crouch Snr in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Sir Richard St. John Harris who played Dumbledore in the first two movies, and, of course, Alan Rickman. Thankfully the Harry Potter films were so iconic that these actors will surely live on indefinitely in the hearts of their fans.
1. He Could Sing!
The ability to portray complex characters wasn’t Rickman’s only skill. As a young man, he excelled in calligraphy and watercolor painting in school and he went on to use these artistic skills to become a graphic designer.
While at drama school a teacher told him that his voice was too low for singing roles, adding that he sounded like he was singing through a drain pipe. But Alan proved them when he took on the role of Judge Turpin in Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street which required him to sing. A vocal coach helped him prepare for the role and it turned out that Rickman had quite a flair for it. So in case you ever wondered if it was really him singing in this film the answer is yes!