Richard St. John Harris (October 1, 1930 – October 25, 2002) was an Irish actor, singer and songwriter. Richard was born in Limerick, Ireland, and passed away in London, England at the age of 72. Richard appeared in Camelot (1967), A Man Called Horse (1970), and at the end of his career, the first two Harry Potter movies. He was a notorious playboy and drinker, part of a rowdy generation of talented Irish and British actors that included Albert Finney, Richard Burton, and Peter O’Toole. Besides his acting skills, Richard was also a talented musician with a top 10 hit in both the United Kingdom and United States with his version of Jimmy Webb’s MacArthur Park in 1968.
Richard famously portrayed Professor Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Richard was hesitant to take the role, given his age and declining health, but a threat from his granddaughter that she would not speak to him again if he did not play Dumbledore was what ultimately made his decision for him. Richard passed away from complications of Hodgkin’s disease two and a half weeks before the US premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on October 25, 2002.
- Interview 9/11/2001 by The Star
Article by The Star, September 11, 2001 (creepy, huh?)
He said yes to King Lear but turned down Harry Potter – until his granddaughter changed his mind.
Richard Harris is at the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about his leading role in My Kingdom, the new film by Don Boyd that sets Shakespeare’s tragedy in contemporary Liverpool, but what’s really on his mind is how close he came to missing a role in one of the most eagerly awaited movies of the year: Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone.
Harris, who turns 71 on Oct. 1, plays Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Chris Columbus version of J.K. Rowling’s novel, which is scheduled to open Nov. 16.
“I had never read the books,” admits Harris as he sips coffee in the lounge of the Four Seasons Hotel. “All I knew was that they kept offering me the job and raising the salary every time they called me. And I turned them down for a very good reason.”
Harris looks around conspiratorially, as though the evil Voldemort might be lurking behind the potted plants. “You see, anyone who signs up for the Potter films has to agree to be in the sequels – all of them! I didn’t know if that’s how I wanted to spend the last years of my life, and so I said no.”
The two-time Best Actor Oscar nominee (This Sporting Life and The Field) chuckles as he recalls the flurry surrounding his reluctance. “Newspapers, radio, television all had a go at me. The world wanted into this film and this cantankerous f—er called Richard Harris said no.
“But then my granddaughter Ella, who is 11 and whom I worship with my life, came to me one day and said, `Papa, I hear you’re not going to be in the Harry Potter movie.’ I told her that was indeed the case, and then she looked me right in the eye and said, `If you don’t play Dumbledore, then I will never speak with you again.'”
Harris holds out his hands to show how helpless he felt. “What could I do? I didn’t dare have that hanging over my head, and so I said yes.
“It actually turned out to be a pleasant experience. I worked two days one week, then two weeks off, then a few more days’ work. Maybe three weeks in all spread out over months. Very nice at my age, that’s the way to do it.”
He’s also fond of his leading man, 12-year-old Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Potter. “Well, a bit before shooting started, Chris Columbus asked if I’d mind spending some time with the kids so they’d get used to me, and I said `Sure.’ So we all got together one evening, and I sat there showing them card tricks while they sat around discussing show business.
“Finally Chris got us to read some of our scenes together, and when I finished, young Daniel said to me, `That was quite a good reading. I think you’ll be good in the part.’ Lord, to have that much confidence at his age. I don’t have that much confidence now.”
Although he hadn’t read the books before accepting the role, Harris has come to have great respect for author Rowling. “I’d like to crawl inside her mind and her bank account. Her command of language is extraordinary. My name, Albus Dumbledore, means ‘a white Dorset bumblebee,’ and that’s certainly what I look like nowadays.”
Richard was a lifelong supporter of the principles of Jesuit education and through his friendship with the president of the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania, President J.A. Panuska, he established a scholarship fund. The scholarship fund is for Irish students in honor of Richard’s late brother and manager, Dermot, who had died of a heart attack. Richard frequented the University of Scranton campus by hosting acting workshops and casting the University of Scranton’s production of Julius Caesar in November 1987.
Richard had a seemingly endless list of credits after his first appearance in the West End’s Alive and Kicking in 1958. Richard’s first starring role was in This Sporting Life in 1963 as Frank Machin, a coal miner who turned into a famed rugby player. Richard’s portrayal of Frank Machin led him to win the award for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. In 1971, Richard starred in The Snow Goose, which won a Golden Globe for Best Movie Made for TV, and was nominated for an Emmy and BAFTA. Towards the end of his career, Richard had a starring role in The Field, which was released in 1990. Richard earned his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance in The Field.
Richard published his biography Richard Harris: Sex, Death and the Movies: An Intimate Biography with the help of his friend Michael Feeney Callan and the publishers at Sidgwick & Jackson in 1990.