We lost a great actor this past week in Alan Rickman, who died of pancreatic cancer, at 69. Like David Bowie, who also died the same week at the same age of cancer, Rickman was a working class London boy who found at Art College the confidence and methodology to buck the trend of a class ridden society and achieve success. There is no way today in an increasingly unequal London kids from working class backgrounds like David Bowie and Alan Rickman could achieve such success and social mobility.
Rickman, who had three siblings, was brought up by his mother Margaret after his father Bernard died when Alan was just eight. Rickman had an upbringing of mixed religious heritage. His mother was a Methodist of Welsh descent and his father was an Irish Catholic. Due to his father’s early death it’s reasonable to assume that Methodism was more influential in his life than Catholicism. They lived on a council estate in Acton, West London, and the future star won a scholarship to Latymer Upper School before going to art school and then the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Hailing from a working-class London family, he supported himself as a dresser before finding work with the Royal Shakespeare Company. After more than a decade of success on the stage and in television, Rickman made his film debut in 1988’s Die Hard, instantly becoming one of Hollywood’s top villains.
Rickman was a director as well as an actor – but he was unable to go behind the camera for almost two decades because of his duties on the Potter films. Speaking after his film A Little Chaos, in which he played Louis XIV, he revealed that he had not expected to be tied up with the magical children’s film for so long. ‘I wasn’t free until now because I started doing Harry Potter, and when I started there were only three books written so I didn’t know I was going to be unable [to direct],’ he said. ‘Because if you’re going to direct a film it’s over a year of your life and I didn’t have that. So once I had finished with that series of films I was free.’
Rickman is a Labour supporter and has campaigned with The Labour Party, most recently with Ed Miliband in the 2015 General Election. But passion for politics is something Rickman says has cooled in his life as he’s grown older, seemingly because he’s tired of rhetoric and politicians talking the talk: “I find myself becoming less and less enamoured of public statement – I’d rather see it in action.”
Former PM Tony Blair paid tribute to Rickman: “Alan was a brilliant actor and director and a great supporter of progressive causes. He was extraordinarily modest and easy going for someone so talented and successful and a delightful person to be around. “He gave great support to the Labour Party through good times and bad. I valued his help enormously. He will be sorely missed.”
— Andy Slaughter MP (@hammersmithandy) January 14, 2016
His partner of 40 years since they met at Chelsea Art College, Rima Horton, is an economics lecturer at Kingston University and Labour politician who stood twice for Parliament. In 2012 the star revealed he had married Horton in a ceremony, half a century after they first meet as teenagers. Talking about it, he said: ‘It was great because no one was there. After the wedding in New York, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and ate lunch.’ Although he rarely gave details of his private life, he once described his wife as ‘incredibly, unbelievably tolerant, possibly a candidate for sainthood’. Miss Horton is a former Labour councillor in Kensington and Chelsea for 20 years, and the actor often joined the party on the campaign trail around the country.
Really sad to hear about Alan Rickman. Brilliant actor, deeply principled man. My heart goes out to Rima and his family.
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) January 14, 2016
Although many young people know him mainly for the playing the character of Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” film series, many of us recall the wonderful job he did portraying Éamon de Valera in Neil Jordan’s film “Michael Collins.” De Valera is one of the most complicated and controversial figures in Irish history, and Rickman did a wonderful job of bringing him to life. He will be missed. Here are some clips from Alan Rickman’s performance as de Valera. “Michael Collins” also features Liam Neeson as Collins, Aidan Quinn as Harry Boland, Julia Roberts as Kitty Kieran, Stephen Rea as Ned Broy, and other actors who helped forge this remarkable ensemble.
Alan Rickman was a truly remarkable actor who never forgot his working class roots. As his friend from schooldays and local Hammersmith Labour MP Andy Slaughter observed: ” ….the international movie star has another profile. As a west London boy, Labour Party loyalist and supporter of the arts in his local community. And in the Hammersmith constituency I represent this means more than the Hollywood CV.”
Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman (21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016) English actor and director
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