A genuine star of cinema on screen and a fiery hell raiser off screen, Richard St John Harris was born on October 1, 1930 in Limerick, Ireland, to a farming family. He was an excellent rugby player and had a strong passion for literature. Unfortunately, a bout of tuberculosis as a teenager ended his aspirations to a rugby career, but he became fascinated with the theater and skipped a local dance one night to attend a performance of "Henry IV". He was hooked and went on to learn his craft at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, then spent several years in stage productions. He debuted on screen in Shake Hands with the Devil (1959) and quickly scored regular work in films, including The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), The Night Fighters (1960) and a good role as a frustrated Australian bomber pilot in The Guns of Navarone (1961).
However, his breakthrough performance was as the quintessential "angry young man" in the sensational drama This Sporting Life (1963), which scored him an Oscar nomination. He then appeared in the WW II commando tale The Heroes of Telemark (1965) and in the Sam Peckinpah-directed western Major Dundee (1965). He next showed up in Hawaii (1966) and played King Arthur in Camelot (1967), a lackluster adaptation of the famous Broadway play. Better performances followed, among them a role as a reluctant police informer in The Molly Maguires (1970) alongside Sir Sean Connery. Harris took the lead role in the violent western A Man Called Horse (1970), which became something of a cult film and spawned two sequels.
As the 1970s progressed, Harris continued to appear regularly on screen; however, the quality of the scripts varied from above average to woeful. His credits during this period included directing himself as an aging soccer player in the delightful The Hero (1971); the western The Deadly Trackers (1973); the big-budget "disaster" film Juggernaut (1974); the strangely-titled crime film 99 and 44/100% Dead (1974); with Connery again in Robin and Marian (1976); Gulliver's Travels (1977); a part in the Jaws (1975) ripoff Orca (1977) and a nice turn as an ill-fated mercenary with Richard Burton and Roger Moore in the popular action film The Wild Geese (1978).
The 1980s kicked off with Harris appearing in the silly Bo Derek vanity production Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) and the remainder of the decade had him appearing in some very forgettable productions.
However, the luck of the Irish was once again to shine on Harris' career and he scored rave reviews (and another Oscar nomination) for The Field (1990). He then locked horns with Harrison Ford as an IRA sympathizer in Patriot Games (1992) and got one of his best roles as gunfighter English Bob in the Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven (1992). Harris was firmly back in vogue and rewarded his fans with more wonderful performances in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993); Cry, the Beloved Country (1995); The Great Kandinsky (1995) (TV) and This Is the Sea (1997). Further fortune came his way with a strong performance in the blockbuster Gladiator (2000) and he became known to an entirely new generation of film fans as Albus Dumbledore in the mega-successful Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). His final screen role was as "Lucius Sulla" in Caesar (2002) (TV).
A diverse, vigorous and captivating actor, Richard Harris passed away from Hodgkin's Disease on October 25, 2002.
|Ann Turkel||(7 June 1974 - 1982) (divorced)|
|Elizabeth Rees||(9 February 1957 - 1969) (divorced) 3 children|
A rebel in real life, a part he often portrayed on screen
In his later years he often played characters that speak in raspy whispers
Pale blue eyes
Was a pretty good rugby player in his day, still remembered in Limerick City for his tackling ability.
He was a guest professor at the University of Scranton in the mid-1980s, teaching Theatre Arts courses.
Received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Scranton in 1987.
Joined the Knights of Malta (SMOM), despite his two divorces.
Was knighted by Denmark in 1985.
One of 9 children born to Limerick farmer Ivan Harris and his wife, the former Mildred Harty.
A bout with tuberculosis ended his ambition of becoming a professional rugby player.
Only agreed to take the part of Albus Dumbledor in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) after his then 11-year-old granddaughter threatened never to speak to him again if he didn't.
While still a student, he rented the tiny "off-West End" Irving Theatre in London and directed his own production of Clifford Odets' "Winter Journey (The Country Girl)". The critics approved, but the production used up all his savings and he was forced to sleep in a coal cellar for six weeks.
Died shortly before the U.S. premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002).
He was awarded the 1990 London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actor for his performance in Henry IV.
Was cremated and his ashes were scattered at his home in the Bahamas
Both he and his fellow Irish actor (and close friend) Peter O'Toole appeared in versions of "Gulliver's Travels": Harris played the title character in the 1977 film version Gulliver's Travels (1977) and O'Toole played the Emperor of Lilliput in the 1996 TV-film version Gulliver's Travels (1996) (TV), where Ted Danson played Gulliver.
Associate member of LAMDA.
Graduated from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). He was rejected by the Royal Adademy of Dramatic Art.
Member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in Stratford Upon Avon, England, since the early 1960s. His last appearance on the Swan stage (RSC main) was in the mid-1990s.
Received the Laurence Olivier Award for his acclaimed performances at the Royal National Theatre, London, England.
Once said in an interview that he had a great fascination with authority figures and their use of power. During his career he portrayed King Arthur in Camelot (1967); Oliver Cromwell in Cromwell (1970); King Richard the Lionheart in Robin and Marian (1976); Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator (2000) and Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002).
An alcoholic, he gave up drinking completely in 1981 and returned to drinking Guinness a decade later.
It was his lifelong ambition to play Hamlet. He never did, although he referred to This Sporting Life (1963) as his Hamlet and The Field (1990) as his Lear. He later had one final attempt at an updated version of Lear with My Kingdom (2001).
Was friends with Sir Sean Connery.
Is one of only two actors to appear in two Best Picture winners from the 1990s. He appeared in 1992's Best Picture, Unforgiven (1992), and 2000's Best Picture, Gladiator (2000). The only other actor to do this was Ralph Fiennes, who appeared in Schindler's List (1993) and The English Patient (1996). Fiennes later followed Harris into the Harry Potter films.
Well known for being a "method actor", Harris was once told that he would play the role of a filthy character, and so he went for a long time without bathing to fit in to the character better, much to the chagrin of his co-stars, who claimed that they could smell him coming a long way away.
He won the role of King Arthur in Camelot (1967), the film version of Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe's hit musical, after close friend and drinking buddy Richard Burton, who had played Arthur in the original 1960 Broadway production, turned down an offer to reprise the role in the film. Burton had had a huge success with Lerner & Lowe's show, winning a 1961 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Harris later replaced Burton in the roadshow of the 1980 revival of the musical when Burton was unable to continue due to bursitis, a tour that ended up back on Broadway, with Harris as Arthur, in 1981.
Harris did not enjoy his first time in Hollywood making The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959). Production had to be halted several times due to the frequent illnesses of its star, Gary Cooper. He turned down the role of Commodus in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) and was thirty-four when he starred in his first Hollywood movie, Major Dundee (1965).
He spent the last 12 years of his life living in Room 758 at the world-famous Savoy Hotel in London. His room was located in the "Courtside" section of the hotel. It did have a view of the river, but not as fine a view as the "Hotel" section riverside rooms. He only had his room cleaned once a week and very rarely notified the hotel that he was out of his room, so they had to check his door ten times a day to see if his "Do Not Disturb" sign flipped around to say "Make Up My Room".
After giving up drinking alcohol for a time in the 1970s, Harris put a bottle of vodka in every room in his house in London. The temptation was huge but he didn't touch a drop.
Producers were initially reluctant to cast Harris as King Arthur in Camelot (1967) due to his limited singing ability. Harris was cast after Richard Burton, who had played the part on Broadway in 1961, demanded too much money. The Irish actor insisted on doing his own singing live and later enjoyed a successful pop career, touring America in 1972.
He enjoyed a friendly rivalry with English actor Oliver Reed during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Reed would often refer to himself as "Mr. England." When Harris would hear him saying that, he would then refer to himself as "Mr. Ireland.".
In his youth he was a fan of Marlon Brando, and could imitate or parody his performance in On the Waterfront (1954) at the drop of a hat. However he did not get along with Brando while filming Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and blamed the American star's on-set behavior for the film going over budget and over schedule. During the 1960s he often criticized Brando's eccentric movie choices in interviews.
In 1979 he was diagnosed with hyperglycemia, a condition in which an excessive amount of glucose circulates in the blood plasma.
During the 1940s and early 1950s he went to see all the films of John Wayne and Gary Cooper. Later, however, he described both actors as "pantomime cowboys". The westerns he made, like _Man Called Horse, A (1970)_, were decidedly revisionist in tone.
While living in England, Harris popped out for milk and when seeing the paper he noticed that Young Munster were playing in Thomond Park, Co. Limerick, Harris got the next available flight to Ireland. He spent the following 3 weeks on a drinking binge. All was unknown at the time to his wife, who had no idea where he was. When he finally returned to England, he rang the doorbell of his house. His wife answered the door and before she had a chance to say anything, he said, "Well, why didn't you pay the ransom?".
In an interview on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962), Harris told a story about when he was a young actor playing Seyton in a theatrical production of "Macbeth." The lead actor was a real jerk to him, making constant demeaning references to Harris's Irish heritage. On opening night, Harris couldn't take it anymore. In Act V, Macbeth turns to him and says, "Wherefore was that cry?" Harris was supposed to reply, "The queen, my lord, is dead," after which Macbeth goes into his famous soliloquy about "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow." However, Harris decided instead to say, "Oh, don't worry. She's fine. She'll be up and about in ten minutes." He ruined the performance and was promptly fired.
By the time he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in August 2002 it was so advanced that there was no hope of recovery.
Uncle of actress Annabelle Wallis.
Mickey Rourke dedicated his 2009 BAFTA award for Best Actor to Harris calling him "a good friend, and great actor.".
There are too many prima donnas in this business and not enough action.
I'm not interested in reputation or immortality or things like that...I don't care what I'm remembered for. I don't care if I'm remembered. I don't care if I'm not remembered. I don't care why I'm remembered. I genuinely don't care.
No one gave me anything. I fought TB, I fought the devil. But I made people laugh. I don't want immortality. I've lived it all. I've done it all.
No one trusts me any more. I spent half the movie [Maigret (1988) (TV)] arguing with people and I was accused of causing big on-set rows. But what they won't tell you is I fought for [author Georges Simenon]. I fought for the maintenance of quality. I don't believe in lying down on the job. I've seen these so-called "nice" actors. Very able fellows like Ian McKellen and Kenneth Branagh. But they're like bank managers. So sweet and careful. Who needs them? We are suffering a plague of good taste. Give me Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke any day. They project danger. That's what makes acting - and life - interesting.
[his response to hearing he had been Oscar nominated for This Sporting Life (1963)] I've struck a blow for the Irish rebellion!
I would give up all the accolades - people have occasionally written and said nice things - of my showbiz career to play just once for the senior Munster team. I will never win an Oscar now, but even if I did I would swap it instantly for one sip of champagne from the Heineken Cup.
Someone asked me once "What is the difference between Tom Cruise now and you when you were a major star?" I said there is a great difference. Look at a photograph of me from the old days and I'm going to one of my film premieres with a bottle of vodka in my hand. Tom Cruise has a bottle of Evian water. That's the difference - a bottle of Evian water.
What I hate about our business today is the elitism. So-called stars ride in private jets and have bodyguards and dietitians and beauticians. Tom Cruise is a midget and he has eight bodyguards all 6 feet 10, which makes him even more diminutive. It's an absolute joke.
I can see the difficulties of making a movie. Directors and producers have to put up with a lot of rubbish from temperamental actors.
[on his Major Dundee (1965) co-star Charlton Heston'] Heston's the only man who could drop out of a cubic moon, he's so square. The trouble with him is he doesn't think he's a hired actor, like the rest of us. He thinks he's the entire production. He used to sit there in the mornings and clock us with a stopwatch.
[upon being carried out on a stretcher from the Savoy Hotel, to people entering the hotel] It was the food!
I was a sinner. I slugged some people. I hurt many people. And it's true, I never looked back to see the casualties.
[on playing Professor Dumbledore] I'll keep doing it as long as I enjoy it, my health holds out and they still want me. But the chances of all three of those factors remaining constant are pretty slim.
I feel most alive when I'm working on a film.
I hate movies. They're a waste of time. I could be in a pub having more fun talking to idiots rather than sitting down and watching idiots perform.
I consider a great part of my career a total failure. I went after the wrong things - got caught in the 60s. I picked pictures that were way below my talent. Just to have fun.
I made films I did not want to see, I took planes to places I didn't want to visit, I bought houses I didn't live in. I was numb, and it didn't seem to matter. (2000)
Actors take themselves so seriously. Samuel Beckett is important, James Joyce is - they left something behind them. But even Laurence Olivier is totally unimportant. Acting is actually very simple, but actors try to elevate it to an art.
If ever I was miscast in my life, it was in the role of husband. I was the worst husband in the world.
When I'm in trouble, I'm an Irishman. When I turn in a good performance, I'm an Englishman.
[on his life] I wish I could remember it.
[on turning seventy] I can be eccentric now and get away with it.
I have no friends in this business. I don't go to their clubs, don't go to their hangouts and don't mix at all. I am part of the business but I am apart from it. If anyone ever asks my advice, I tell them, 'Don't take yourself too seriously.'
When I worked with Julie Andrews, I think I experienced the greatest hate I ever had for any human being.
I came to England first in 1954 looking for a bedsit, a room to sleep in while going to my academy. And outside the Earl's Court tube station there was a little tobacco-list and paper shop and they had a board. A glass-filled in board with rooms for rent. And I saw one for thirteen shillings a week and it said, "No Irishmen or black need apply" and I took my jersey and I put it down over my hand and I put my hand right through the glass and I took it out and I kept it for the rest of my life. That's how we were treated here in 1954. That would cause me grievance. That would cause me anger.
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