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Richard Harris Biography

  • Profession: Actor
  • Born: Oct 1, 1932
  • Died: Oct 25, 2002

Though he once declared, "I hate movies. They're a waste of time," Irish actor Richard Harris built a film career that lasted six decades and withstood a long fallow period in the 1970s and '80s. Often as famous for his offscreen exploits as his acting, Harris nevertheless was lauded for charismatic performances ranging from the tough, inarticulate rugby player in [[Feature~V49532~This Sporting Life~thissportinglife]] (1963) to the wry bounty hunter in [[Feature~V51847~Unforgiven~unforgiven]] (1992) and the contemplative emperor in [[Feature~V184587~Gladiator~gladiator]] (2000). After winning over a new generation of fans with [[Feature~V255538~Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone~harrypotterandthesorcerersstone]] (2001) and [[Feature~V260383~Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets~harrypotterandthechamberofsecrets]] (2002), Harris passed away in 2002.

Born in Limerick, Ireland, Harris was the fifth of nine children. More interested in sports than art, Harris became a top rugby player in his teens. His sports career, however, ended after he came down with tuberculosis at age 19. Bed-ridden for two years, Harris read voraciously to pass the time. Calling his illness the "luckiest thing that ever happened to me," Harris was inspired by his volumes of [[Performer~P315769~Samuel Beckett~samuelbeckett]], James Joyce, and [[Performer~P165478~Dylan Thomas~dylanthomas]] to pursue a creative profession. Harris left Ireland to study in London, signing up for acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in 1956 after he failed to find good classes in directing; he also joined the more experimental Theatre Workshop. Harris made his professional stage debut in The Quare Fellow in 1956, earning praise from Method guru [[Performer~P68625~Lee Strasberg~leestrasberg]]. Spending the next few years on the stage, Harris appeared in Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge and became a theater star with his turn as a drunken Dublin student in The Ginger Man (1959). Branching out to the screen, Harris appeared in the British TV movie The Iron Harp (1958), winning a contract with Associated British Pictures Corp. that lead to his feature debut in [[Feature~V83443~Alive and Kicking~aliveandkicking]] (1959). Playing Irishmen, Harris appeared alongside Hollywood heavyweights [[Performer~P10165~James Cagney~jamescagney]] in the IRA drama [[Feature~V44040~Shake Hands With the Devil~shakehandswiththedevil]] (1959), [[Performer~P14817~Gary Cooper~garycooper]] and [[Performer~P94233~Charlton Heston~charltonheston]] in [[Feature~V55557~The Wreck of the Mary Deare~thewreckofthemarydeare]] (1959), and [[Performer~P49738~Robert Mitchum~robertmitchum]] in [[Feature~V103906~A Terrible Beauty~thenightfighters]] (1960). After switching accents to play an Australian pilot in the World War II epic [[Feature~V21177~The Guns of Navarone~thegunsofnavarone]] (1961), Harris held his own as one of [[Performer~P8070~Marlon Brando~marlonbrando]]'s mutineers in [[Feature~V33979~The Mutiny on the Bounty~mutinyonthebounty]] (1962).

Confirming his status as one of the best of the new generation of British rebel actors that included [[Performer~P23545~Albert Finney~albertfinney]] and [[Performer~P15355~Tom Courtenay~tomcourtenay]], Harris became an international movie star with [[Feature~V49532~This Sporting Life~thissportinglife]]. One of the gritty cycle of "kitchen sink" films, [[Feature~V49532~This Sporting Life~thissportinglife]] starred Harris as a miner's son-turned-professional rugby player who achieves success on the field at the expense of his personal life. Along with showcasing Harris' physical prowess, his tough, sensitive performance evoked the tragic anguish of [[Performer~P8070~Brando~marlonbrando]] at his 1950s peak. After winning the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Harris received his first Oscar nomination. Rather than be pigeonholed, though, Harris collaborated with [[Feature~V49532~This Sporting Life~thissportinglife]] director [[Performer~P79629~Lindsay Anderson~lindsayanderson]] on the stage production The Diary of a Madman and co-starred as [[Performer~P73738~Monica Vitti~monicavitti]]'s lover in [[Performer~P79780~Michelangelo Antonioni~michelangeloantonioni]]'s 1964 study of upper-middle-class malaise, [[Feature~V40668~Red Desert~reddesert]]. Harris then (appropriately) co-starred as [[Performer~P94233~Charlton Heston~charltonheston]]'s nemesis in [[Performer~P105940~Sam Peckinpah~sampeckinpah]]'s butchered-cavalry epic, [[Feature~V30908~Major Dundee~majordundee]] (1965). Devoting himself full-time to movies by the mid-'60s, Harris appeared with [[Performer~P88133~Kirk Douglas~kirkdouglas]] in [[Performer~P101049~Anthony Mann~anthonymann]]'s World War II yarn [[Feature~V95045~The Heroes of Telemark~theheroesoftelemark]] (1965), joined the cast of island epic [[Feature~V21708~Hawaii~hawaii]] (1966), raised Cain in [[Feature~V5318~The Bible~thebible:inthebeginning]] (1966), and co-starred with [[Performer~P17533~Doris Day~dorisday]] as spies caught up in a mod web of intrigue and romance in [[Feature~V86598~Caprice~caprice]] (1967). In still another change of pace, Harris tried his hand at musicals and became a dashing King Arthur in the film version of [[Feature~V7934~Camelot~camelot]] (1967). He subsequently scored a hit single in 1968 with his version of "MacArthur Park."

Always a fancier of the pubs, Harris descended into alcoholism after his first marriage ended in divorce in 1969. Rebounding professionally from the disappointing biopic [[Feature~V11581~Cromwell~cromwell]] (1970) and the intermittently engaging [[Feature~V33062~The Molly Maguires~themollymaguires]] (1970), Harris scored a box-office hit with the sleeper Western [[Feature~V31075~A Man Called Horse~amancalledhorse]] (1970). Starring Harris as a British aristocrat captured and then embraced by the Sioux after a then-notably gory initiation, [[Feature~V31075~A Man Called Horse~amancalledhorse]] found a large audience for its pro-Indian sympathies and macho rituals, spawning two less-popular sequels [[Feature~V41079~The Return of a Man Called Horse~thereturnofamancalledhorse]] (1976) and [[Feature~V51045~Triumphs of a Man Called Horse~triumphsofamancalledhorse]] (1983). Returning to his original career goals, Harris stepped behind the camera to direct and write, as well as star as an aging soccer player in, [[Feature~V85483~The Hero~bloomfield]] (1971). As the 1970s went on, however, Harris' well-publicized hell-raising with famous drinking buddies [[Performer~P53681~Peter O'Toole~peterotoole]] and [[Performer~P83664~Richard Burton~richardburton]] became more entertaining than his movies. Summing up the period as "drifting from one piece of crap to another," Harris funded his offscreen antics with such works as [[Feature~V12814~The Deadly Trackers~thedeadlytrackers]] (1973), [[Feature~V49156~Ransom~ransom]] (1974), [[Feature~V36582~Orca: The Killer Whale~orca]] (1977), [[Feature~V107320~The Ravagers~theravagers]] (1979), and [[Feature~V124088~The Bloody Avengers~bloodyavengers]] (1980). [[Feature~V54543~The Wild Geese~thewildgeese]] (1978), at least, featured [[Performer~P83664~Burton~richardburton]] as Harris' onscreen co-star, while [[Feature~V26699~Juggernaut~juggernaut]] (1974) and [[Feature~V8557~The Cassandra Crossing~thecassandracrossing]] (1976) were mildly engaging disaster thrillers. Plunging to his career low in the early '80s with his appearance as [[Performer~P18693~Bo Derek~boderek]]'s father in the risible [[Feature~V48690~Tarzan, the Ape Man~tarzantheapeman]] (1981), and experiencing personal lows with his divorce from second wife [[Performer~P72129~Ann Turkel~annturkel]] and dire warnings about his health, Harris quit drinking and took a sabbatical from movies. He published the novel Honor Bound in 1982.

Still, Harris continued to perform during the 1980s, reprising his role as King Arthur in the touring company of Camelot. After he showed that he still had his serious acting chops in a 1989 production of Pirandello's play Henry IV, Harris recovered his film actor credentials with [[Feature~V17115~The Field~thefield]] (1990). Though the film received a limited release, Harris' commanding performance as tenant farmer Bull McCabe earned the actor his second Oscar nomination. Harris was back for good with his lively turn as an IRA gunman in the summer blockbuster [[Feature~V37441~Patriot Games~patriotgames]] (1992) and his self-mythologizing bounty hunter English Bob in [[Performer~P88601~Clint Eastwood~clinteastwood]]'s Oscar-winning Western [[Feature~V51847~Unforgiven~unforgiven]]. Harris garnered still more positive reviews for his performances opposite [[Performer~P88530~Robert Duvall~robertduvall]] in the amiable character study [[Feature~V131138~Wrestling Ernest Hemingway~wrestlingernesthemingway]] (1993), and as a South African landowner in the remake of [[Feature~V135800~Cry, the Beloved Country~crythebelovedcountry]] (1995). Though his stint with Camelot had made him a fortune and he preferred hanging out at the local pub (imbibing his Guinness in moderation) to going Hollywood, Harris refused to retire as the 1990s went on, appearing in the adaptation of [[Feature~V154624~Smilla's Sense of Snow~smillassenseofsnow]] (1997) and [[Feature~V180333~To Walk With Lions~towalkwithlions]] (1999). Bringing a majestic gravitas to a cameo role, Harris earned Oscar buzz (though unfulfilled) for his Marcus Aurelius in [[Feature~V184587~Gladiator~gladiator]]. Acquiescing to his granddaughter's wishes, Harris subsequently accepted another blockbuster project and agreed to play Albus Dumbledore in [[Feature~V255538~Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone~harrypotterandthesorcerersstone]] and [[Feature~V260383~Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets~harrypotterandthechamberofsecrets]]. After shooting the [[Feature~V286867~Potter~harrypotter[filmseries]]] movies, Harris delivered a final superb performance as a gangster King Lear in [[Feature~V248925~My Kingdom~mykingdom]] (2001).

Though he predicted that he'd recover in time to begin the third [[Feature~V286867~Potter~harrypotter[filmseries]]] movie, Harris passed away from Hodgkin's disease in October 2002. He was survived by his three sons, actors [[Performer~P30630~Jared Harris~jaredharris]] and [[Performer~P225967~Jamie Harris~jamieharris]], and director [[Performer~P93501~Damian Harris~damianharris]]. ~ Lucia Bozzola, Rovi