Actor Alan Rickman, best known as Professor Snape in Harry Potter films, dies at 69

Alan Rickman in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows - Part 2. PHOTO: WARNER BROS
Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. PHOTO: WARNER BROS
Alan Rickman with Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. PHOTO: STARHUB
Alan Rickman with Emma Thompson in Love Actually. PHOTO: UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

LONDON (AFP) Veteran British actor Alan Rickman, a master of playing menacing screen villains, has died at the age of 69 after suffering from cancer, his family said Thursday.

The Golden Globe and Bafta-winning film, television and theatre star possessed a rich, smooth voice and brooding delivery that helped make him a sex symbol as well as an archetypal "baddie" actor.

"The actor and director Alan Rickman has died from cancer at the age of 69. He was surrounded by family and friends," a family statement said.

The Daily Mail reported that Rickman's brother, David, 71, said that the actor was in the hospital when he died on Thursday morning.

Actor Robert Pattinson, who played Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter, tweeted about how sad he was when the news broke.

Rickman started out in British theatre and shot to international fame in 1988 playing opposite Bruce Willis as the German terrorist mastermind Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

He did a memorable turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1991 blockbuster Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. His performance earned him the best supporting actor gong at Britain's Bafta film awards.

"This will be a healthy reminder to me that subtlety isn't everything," he said, on receiving the award.

"In Nottingham, we'll always remember Alan Rickman in his role as the sheriff and are so sad to hear of his death," said Mohammed Saghir, current holder of the now-ceremonial post.

"His sheriff was a gloriously nasty character who it was easy to love to hate and who he appeared to have great fun playing." Rickman also won a best actor award at the Golden Globes and the Emmys for the title role in the television film Rasputin: Dark Servant Of Destiny (1996).

Offscreen, Rickman was also an acclaimed stage actor, having started out at the Royal Shakespeare Company soon after his graduation from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the United Kingdom.

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But he gained legions of younger fans with his portrayal of the largely malicious teacher Severus Snape in all eight Harry Potter films from 2001 to 2011.

Potter's creator J. K. Rowling said she was "shocked and devastated" to hear of his death.

"He was a magnificent actor and a wonderful man... We have all lost a great talent."

In between his turns as Snape, he starred in the Christmas-themed romantic comedy movie Love Actually and voiced Absolem the Caterpillar in Alice In Wonderland.

Born in Acton, west London, on Feb 21, 1946, Rickman won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the relatively late age of 26.

In 1985 he played the original lead male role in the Royal Shakespeare Company's version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. It transferred to Broadway, where he received a Tony Award nomination.

Playing the Vicomte de Valmont, "he created a scintillating, stylish danger which became a hallmark in a career as varied and distinguished as any actor would wish," said RSC artistic director Gregory Doran.

He paid tribute to an "original" actor with "forensic intelligence, precision and brilliant comic timing".

Rickman played the romantic leads in the British films Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991) and Sense And Sensibility (1994).

But it was his intimidating portrayal of villains that made his mark on Hollywood.

In 1995, he was chosen by Empire film magazine as the 34th sexiest star in film history.

Though he never won an Oscar, Rickman did not view it as a snub.

"Parts win prizes, not actors," he told US television network IFC in 2008.

He met his partner Rima Horton, a local politician and an economics lecturer, in 1965 and they married in a private ceremony in New York in 2012. The duo have been cohabiting since 1977.

Rickman's death comes just months ahead of the release of a new film called Eye In The Sky in which he stars alongside Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul.

The Alice In Wonderland sequel Alice Through The Looking Glass is also due for release later this year.

He is the third international British star of the post-World War II baby boom to die of cancer within a month. Pop music icon David Bowie, died aged 69 on Sunday and Motorhead heavy metal pioneer Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister died on Dec 28, four days after he turned 70.

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