On this day in 2002, Irish-born actor Richard Harris, whose career spanned six decades and included starring roles in films ranging from “Camelot” to the “Harry Potter” series, dies of cancer at age 72 in London. Harris was known for his acting talent as well as his carousing off-camera. As BBC.com reported after his death, “He was everything a bad-boy Hollywood star should be: a handsome, boozing, brawling, womanizing, jet-setter whose moody magnificence brought glamour to even his weakest movies.”
Richard St. John Harris was born on October 1, 1930, in Limerick, Ireland, where his family had a flour-milling business. As a young man, Harris was a talented rugby player, but his athletic career was cut short by a battle with tuberculosis. He went on to study acting in the mid-1950s at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and afterward found work in various London theater productions. By the late 1950s, he was earning small roles on the big screen. Among his early film credits were supporting parts in “The Guns of Navarone” (1961), featuring Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn, and “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1962), with Marlon Brando.
Harris shot to international stardom with his performance as a coal miner tuned rugby player in 1963’s “This Sporting Life.” The role earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor. A long list of acting credits would follow—Harris made more than 70 films over the course of his career—including a 1967 cinematic adaptation of the Broadway musical “Camelot,” in which he played King Arthur. In addition to his movie roles, Harris became equally famous for his reputation as a raconteur and hell-raiser. He reportedly suffered nine broken noses during his life and received last rites twice from a priest.
Harris portrayed a hardened Irish farmer in 1990’s “The Field,” for which he garnered a second Oscar nomination for best actor. He went on to appear in such movies as “The Unforgiven” (1992) directed by Clint Eastwood, “Patriot Games” (1992), “Cry, the Beloved Country” (1995) and “Gladiator” (2000), in which he played Marcus Aurelius to Russell Crowe’s Maximus.
In 2001, Harris gained legions of new fans when he played Albus Dumbledore, the wise, white-bearded headmaster of Hogwarts School, in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Harris reprised this role for the second film in the series, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” which was released in the U.S. in November 2002, just weeks after his death.