From Camelot to Gladiator and Harry Potter, with “MacArthur Park” in there somewhere:
- Irish actor Richard Harris, who gained fame as the roistering star of such 1960s films as “This Sporting Life” and “Camelot” and reached a new generation of fans years later as the wise old wizard in two Harry Potter movies, died Friday night at a London hospital. He was 72.
“With great sadness, Damian, Jared and Jamie Harris announced the death of their beloved father, Richard Harris,” his family said.
“He died peacefully at University College Hospital,” where he was receiving treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease after falling ill earlier this year.
In an interview last year, Harris told The Associated Press it was his young granddaughter, Ella, who persuaded him to play Professor Albus Dumbledore in last year’s “Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone.” He returns in the role in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” which opens Nov. 15.
“She called me and said, ‘If you don’t do it, papa, I’ll never speak to you again,’ and I thought, I can’t afford that. I have to do it.”
….A tall, sturdy figure with a reputation as a hellraiser and a lived-in face that he once described as looking like “five miles of bad country road,” Harris was never cut out to join contemporaries as a smooth matinee idol.
The critic Clive Barnes called him one of a new breed of British actors, who are “rougher, tougher, fiercer, angrier and more passionately articulate than their well-groomed predecessors … roaring boys, sometimes with highly colored private lives and lurid public images.”
He caught the eye of critic Kenneth Tynan who once bracketed him with Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole as one of the three best young actors on the British stage.
Harris was nominated twice for best-actor Academy Awards, for his role as a violent, inarticulate Yorkshire miner in Lindsay Anderson’s 1963 “This Sporting Life,” and as a thundering Irish peasant in director Jim Sheridan’s little-seen 1990 film “The Field.” Harris also was nominated for an Emmy for 1971’s “The Snow Goose.”
Within the last decade, he appeared in two winners of the best-picture Oscar – “Unforgiven” in 1992 and 2000’s “Gladiator,” in which he played the war-weary Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
….One of Harris’ biggest successes was “A Man Called Horse,” in 1970. Other films over the years included “Major Dundee,” “Hawaii,” “The Molly Maguires” and “Cromwell.”
He trilled semi-tunefully as King Arthur opposite Vanessa Redgrave in 1967’s “Camelot.” The next year, he had a hit record with the long, melodramatic song “MacArthur Park,” part of a short-lived singing career that also included an appearance in the stage production of the rock opera “Tommy.”
- The death Friday of the 72-year-old actor, who played the professorial old wizard in the first two “Harry Potter” movies, forced Warner Bros. to face the prospect of finding a replacement.
Production on the series’ third installment, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” was to begin in either February or March, and Harris had signed on to appear in it, the studio said.
….Harris said he once asked his agent if it was possible to do a few “Harry Potter” movies – but not all of them.
“He called me back and said, ‘You can get out of it,'” Harris recalled with a smile. “I said, ‘Tell me, how!’ And he said … ‘Die.'”