"He was the kindest and best of men," says Kate Winslet
For most actors, it’s in the eyes – that’s where the camera lingers.
Alan Rickman had an extra gift: a voice that sparked shivers of every sort. He used it to disarm Bruce Willis in Die Hard, to woo Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility and to rattle Daniel Radcliffe in the Harry Potter films. That rumbling bass baritone moved audiences and made Rickman one of the most respected actors of his generation.
When it was silenced by cancer on Jan. 14, the only thing left to feel was heartbreak. He was 69.
Born in London, the classically trained actor earned acclaim on the British stage, then blasted his way to big-screen stardom as Die Hard s devilish villain.
He stole Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves out from under Kevin Costner’s nose with a deliciously hammy (often improvised) turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham, but he didn’t want to be just a Hollywood villain.
He was romantic in 1990 with Truly Madly Deeply, then again in 1995 in Sense and Sensibility.
“I remember being so intimidated by him,” recalls Winslet. “He had such a powerful and commanding presence. And that voice! Oh, that voice. But the reality, of course, was that he was the kindest and best of men.”
His five-time costar and friend Emma Thompson echoed the sentiment. “I have just kissed him goodbye,” she wrote the day he died. “What I remember most in this moment of painful leave-taking is his humor, intelligence, wisdom and kindness. . . . He was the ultimate ally.”
Rickman’s own story was as romantic as anything Jane Austen wrote.
The son of a factory worker, he became a graphic designer before pursuing his dreams of being an actor.
He met Rima Horton in 1965, when they were teens. She was his first girlfriend and his last. (The two wed quietly in 2012.) Together for a half century, they never had children.
But Rickman could claim an entire generation of kids as his own. To them, he is Professor Snape, the nemesis turned tragic hero of the Harry Potter series, only hinting at the character’s nobility in his final moments.
As Rickman’s frequent collaborator Ruby Wax said of her friend, “There’ll never be anyone like that. It was the devil and it was the angel. He was the most talented man I ever met, and offstage he was human.”