RIP Alan Rickman

by / Jan. 14, 2016 11am EST

This has been a sad week for Anglophiles. This morning brings news of the death of actor Alan Rickman at the age of 69 from cancer, same age and cause as David Bowie. Bowie was said to have been diagnosed 18 months ago, which would be right around the time that I saw Rickman at the Toronto International Film Festival. He was introducing A Little Chaos, which he directed, co-wrote and co-stars in as King Louis XIV. You may have seen it at the Amherst Theater this past summer; it wasn’t a great movie, but there were a lot of wonderful moments in it, and it’s worth a look if you can find it on cable.

A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Rickman came late to the movies: he was 42 when he played villain Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard.

His smooth purr of a voice and compelling sneer made him a natural for directors in need of a showy bad guy, especially when they needed to balance a bland leading man: his Sheriff of Nottingham in 1992’s Robin Hood Prince of Thieves was as flamboyant as Kevin Costner’s Robin was dull.

And of course there was that Snape guy. Even if you weren’t much of a Harry Potter fan, sitting through the movies gave you a chance to watch most of the cream of the British acting profession.

Because so much of his best work was in the theater (he won a Tony award as Vicomte de Valmont in the original production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses), Rickman leaves behind a small film legacy: many of his roles were the kind of guest shots that boards-trodders take to fill in the gaps. He could always be counted on to liven up a film (casting him as Ronald Reagan in The Butler was a stroke of genius, if not much more than that). But there are only a handful of films that show him at his best: as the interrogator in Closet Land; an adulterous husband in Love Actually; and my own favorite, a loving husband brought back from the dead by a wife who can’t carry on without him in Anthony Minghella’s first film, Truly Madly Deeply:

I was going to complain that TMD is long out of print on DVD and difficult to find, but guess what – you can see the whole movie on the internet, if you don’t mind watching it with Spanish subtitles.