Alan Rickman, the beloved British actor, suddenly died Thursday at age 69 due to cancer. Rickman was most well known for roles as Professor Snape in the “Harry Potter” movies and Hans Gruber in “Die Hard,” though his talents spread far beyond these two famous franchises. Rickman was well known and also well recognized. He won a Golden Globe and an Emmy in 1996 for his portrayal of Rasputin in “Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny.” In total, Rickman won more than 16 awards for his film roles and was Tony-nominated twice for his roles in the plays “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” and “Private Lives.”
Rickman was cast as the villain in many of his films, notably as the Sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” but Rickman was in his share of romantic movies as well. In “Sense and Sensibility,” Rickman was a part of a love triangle between Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson’s characters. He acted opposite Thompson again in Richard Curtis’s “Love Actually,” and in one of his most loved films, “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” he played the deceased lover of Juliet Stevenson’s Nina, who comes back from the dead.
After his passing, Sir Ian McKellen was one of many English actors to post a tribute to Rickman on Facebook: “Behind his starry insouciance and careless elegance, behind that mournful face, which was just as beautiful when wracked with mirth, there was a super-active spirit, questing and achieving, a [superhero], unassuming but deadly effective.”
Even with Rickman’s diversity of roles from complicated villains to romantic partners, it is easy to overlook one of his most interesting talents — his flair for comedy. Rickman said so himself when talking about his acting: “I’m quite a serious actor who doesn’t mind being ridiculously comic.”
One of the most important weapons a good comedian can have in their arsenal is a distinctive voice, and there is no denying Rickman had just that. His deep, convoluted and somewhat soulful tone prompted endless imitations and kept a clear reminder of his skill as a stage actor. Rickman’s voice in acting in “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and guest appearances on shows like “King of the Hill” are mistakenly overlooked in summaries of his life’s work. Even without the British accent in recent movies like “CGBG,” Rickman successfully put on a bored and impatient drawl that is memorable and unique.
In addition to his voice, Rickman possessed a certain wit that was at times cynical, bored or charming. As Severus Snape, he successfully portrayed the insecurities of a professor constantly at odds with his student while maintaining the complexities of his character. He was the perfect authority to root against, using clumsiness combined with elegance that other prominent roles, like Hans Gruber, featured. In Rickman’s roles, this elegance worked to his advantage with the sarcasm and dignified irreverence that made him such an icon. Rickman should be remembered not just for his villainous adaptations, but also for his skill at bringing characters to life with humor.