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Actor Alan Rickman Has Died; Portrayed Snape In 'Harry Potter' Films

British actor Alan Rickman, a veteran of dozens of films, has died at age 69. Recently, Rickman was most well-known for portraying the complicated villain Severus Snape in the films based on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books.

"Rickman had been suffering from cancer," The Guardian reports.

Rickman appeared in an array of blockbuster films during his prolific career, from 1988's Die Hard with Bruce Willis to 2003's Love Actually and the Harry Potter films.

"There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman's death," Rowling said on Twitter today. "He was a magnificent actor & a wonderful man."

Actor Helen Mirren, who met Rickman decades ago, told NPR's Ari Shapiro that she was intimidated by him — at first.

"He played these very reserved, sometimes cold, sometimes threatening characters on the screen, but the reality of the man was incredible warmth and humor and generosity and a wicked fun," she said.

Rickman brought intelligence and humanity to a wide spectrum of roles, judiciously deploying what seemed to be a bottomless supply of frowns and smirks that endeared him to his fans. But it was his deep, rich voice that set him apart.

"That incredible voice," Mirren said. "That he could play like a sort of wonderful instrument, like a cello or something. He played his voice — he could be the most subtle of actors and he could also be quite a big actor. He could do the grandiose performances as well."

While his voice became something of a trademark, Rickman once said that he endured much criticism for it in drama school. One voice teacher, as he recalled in 2007, told Rickman that he sounded as if his voice was "coming out of the back end of a drainpipe."

Explaining his own opinion of his voice, Rickman said, "Well, it's what I'm stuck with, so it's not like I can go and get another one. And also, I don't hear what anybody else hears. So it's always a bit of a shock, you know. And it never goes away."

While he might be famous for playing villains, Rickman once told NPR that those roles are "a very small part of whatever I've done. It's like two or three parts, and they just happened to have big publicity budgets."

Rickman also directed films and theatrical works, and he acted in plays from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra to Noel Coward's Private Lives.

A former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Rickman spoke to NPR in 2011 about his stage work in the U.S.:

"I love working in New York theater. ... It is very demanding, but it's good to be in a city where you feel that theater is actually part of the life of the city. You know, London is so sprawling, and you can sometimes forget that anybody else is on a stage anywhere else. But here, it's, you know, your friends and neighbors."

Three films from the 1990s help describe Rickman's range.

In 1991, he turned in a memorable performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves -- a film whose legacy these days isn't helped by Kevin Costner's hair, but which was the second-most-popular film in theaters that year.

In 1995, he appeared in director Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility, playing Colonel Brandon opposite Kate Winslet's Marianne Dashwood.

And in 1999, he showed his willingness to camp it up on-screen, when he starred with Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen in Galaxy Quest, a film that might best be described as a sci-fi romp.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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