Richard Harris - 1930-2002

Story by Jack Foley

 

ACCLAIMED Irish actor, Richard Harris, sadly passed away on Friday, October 25, 2002, at the age of 72, following a fight against cancer.

The jovial hellraiser, best-known for roles in movies such as Camelot, A Man Called Horse and This Sporting Life, as well as the first two Harry Potter films, had been undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin's disease since falling ill two months ago - shortly after completing filming on the latest Harry Potter instalment, The Chamber of Secrets.

His death was announced by his sons, Jarid, Jamie and Damian, who said that their 'beloved father' had passed away peacefully at University College Hospital in London.

The news was immediately greeted with great sadness by some of the leading lights in the British film industry, while Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, described the star as 'one of Ireland's most outstanding artists', before referring to thr 'tremendous contribution to the arts and entertainment world' he had made throughout his long career.

Chat show host, Michael Parkinson, who interviewed Harris three times during his career, described him as 'an extraordinary man' and 'a great storyteller', who was 'very intelligent', while director, Michael Winner, said that the 'lights had dimmed a lot with his passing'.

Harris was world-renowned for his hard-drinking, straight-talking manner and seldom apologised for airing his views on people, no matter how extreme. He memorably crossed swords with Marlon Brando on the set of Mutiny on the Bounty, but continued to generate the respect of many of his Hollywood colleagues, such was the charisma he frequently exhibited both on and off-screen.

Born in Limerick in 1930, he was one of eight children of a wealthy flour-miller and was brought up surrounded by servants and governesses. The collapse of the family firm, however, meant that much of his childhood was spent in poverty.

He developed a passion for acting at an early age, though, and in 1954, moved to London to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art - Lamda, appearing in several fringe theatre productions, despite finding that Irishmen were considered second-class citizens.

The acclaim he was due finally reached him in 1962, however, when he took on the role of Frank Machin, a coal-miner turned rugby league star, in the film This Sporting Life. Harris was subsequently nominated for an Oscar and became courted by Hollywood, commanding huge fees and playing opposite the likes of Charlton Heston, Julie Andrews and Kirk Douglas.

One of his most enduring roles came about in the latter half of the Sixties, when he played King Arthur in the big-screen adaptation of the Broadway hit, Camelot - a film which, for many, remains the definitive version of the King Arthur legend.

Blockbusters such as A Man Called Horse, The Heroes of Telemark and The Wild Geese followed, as well some low-budget flops, while his fondness for the good life made him bankrupt on two occasions.

He was even given the last rites by a priest after one drunken binge, prompting him to give up the booze in the Eighties.

Harris even aged gracefully on-screen, winning his second Oscar nomination in 1990, for his performance as Bull McCabe in The Field, while Clint Eastwood used him to positive effect as English Bob in his Oscar-winner, Unforgiven. He also appeared alongside Russell Crowe in British director, Ridley Scott's Oscar-winner, Gladiator.

Despite boasting a career which spanned over 40 years, Harris continued to win fans of all ages, appearing alongside Guy Pearce and Jim Caviezel in this year's The Count of Monte Cristo and becomimg embraced by children the world over for his portrayal of Professor Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwart's School, in Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone.

He had expected to be discharged from hospital in time to work on the third Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban.

As tributes continue to pour in for the star, it has been announced that memorial services will be held in London and Dublin to celebrate the life and work of the actor

A spokeswoman for Harris's agent, Steve Kenis, revealed that the memorial services will follow a low-key private family funeral, while Harris's ashes will be taken to his home in the Bahamas and sprinkled there.

No date has yet been set for the funeral or the memorial services, however.