Sunday, 31 August 2008

Richard Harris

Richard St. John Harris - Grammy Award-winning Irish Actor of International Acclaim

Richard St. John Harris (1 October 1930 – 25 October 2002) was an Academy Award-nominated and Grammy Award-winning Irish actor, singer and songwriter. He appeared on stage and in many films, and is perhaps best known for his roles as King Arthur in Camelot (1967), as Oliver Cromwell in Cromwell (1970) and for his portrayal of Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), his last film. He also played a British aristocrat and prisoner in A Man Called Horse (1970).

Early life and career

Harris, the fifth of eight children, was born in Limerick City, Ireland, the son of Ivan and Mildred (née Harty) Harris, who owned a flour mill.[1][2] He was schooled by the Jesuits at Crescent College. A talented rugby player, he was on several Munster Junior and Senior Cup teams for Crescent, and played for the well-respected Garryowen Football Club. He might have become a provincial or international-standard rugby player, but his athletic career was cut short when he contracted tuberculosis in his teens. He remained an ardent fan of Munster provincial rugby team until his death, attending many matches, and there are numerous stories of japes at rugby matches with fellow actors and rugby fans Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton.

After recovering from the disease he moved to London, wanting to become a director. He could not find any suitable courses and enrolled in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) to learn acting. While still a student, Harris rented the tiny "off-West End" Irving Theatre, and directed his own production of the Clifford Odets play Winter Journey (The Country Girl). The show was a critical success, but a financial failure, and Harris lost all his savings on the venture.

As a result, he ended up temporarily homeless, sleeping in a coal cellar for six weeks. After completing his studies at the Academy, Harris joined Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop. He began getting roles in West End theatre productions, starting with The Quare Fellow in 1956, a transfer from the Theatre Workshop.


Personal life and death

In 1957, he married Elizabeth Rees-Williams, daughter of David Rees-Williams. Their three children are actor Jared Harris, actor Jamie Harris (born as Tudor St. John Harris, but known as Jamie since childhood), and director Damian Harris (who has a son named Marlowe, born 2002, with Australian actress Peta Wilson). Harris and Rees-Willams were divorced in 1969, and Elizabeth married another actor, Rex Harrison.

Harris' second marriage was to American actress Ann Turkel, who was 16 years his junior; that marriage also ended in divorce. He was a member of the Knights of Malta, despite his divorces, and was also knighted by Denmark in 1985. He was reportedly good friends with Peter O'Toole.[5] His family reportedly hoped O'Toole would replace Harris as Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.[5]

Harris often told stories about his haunted English Mansion, The Tower House, which was sold later to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame. According to Harris, the tower was haunted by an eight-year-old boy who had been buried in the tower. The boy often kept Harris awake at night until he one day built a nursery for the boy to play in, which calmed the disturbances to some extent.[6]

Harris died of Hodgkin's disease on October 25, 2002, aged 72, two and a half weeks before the U.S. premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He was replaced as Dumbledore by fellow Irish-born actor Michael Gambon.

Whenever he was in London, Harris lived at the Savoy Hotel. According to hotel archivist Susan Scott, when he was being taken from the hotel on a stretcher, shortly before his death, he warned diners, 'It was the food!' [7]


Richard Harris was a Knight of Malta and could be styled as Sir Richard Harris.
He was a member of the Knights of Malta, and was also unexpectedly knighted by the predominantly Lutheran country of Denmark. The Knights Hospitaller (the or Knights of Malta or Knights of Rhodes) is a tradition which began as a Benedictine nursing Order founded in the 11th century based in the Holy Land, but soon became a militant Christian Chivalric Order under its own charter, and was charged with the care... The Lutheran movement is a group of denominations of Protestant Christianity by the original definition. ...
*Richard once said in an interview that he had a great fascination with authority figures and their use of power. During his career he portrayed "King Arthur" in Camelot (1967), "Oliver Cromwell" in Cromwell (1970), "King Richard the Lionheart" in Robin and Marian (1976), "Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius" in Gladiator (2000), and "Headmaster Albus Dumbledore" in the first two Harry Potter films.
*Richard was knighted in Denmark in 1985.
*Richard, Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton were drinking buddies in the early 1970s till Burton's death.
*Richard joined the Knights of Malta (SMOM), despite his two divorces.
*Richard received an Honorary Doctorate from the University Of Scranton in 1987, and was a guest professor there, teaching Theatre Arts courses in the mid 1980s.
Received an Honorary Doctorate from the University Of Scranton in 1987.Joined the Knights of Malta (SMOM), despite his two divorces.
Harris seems to be particularly fond of the Jesuit University of Scranton as is testified by the following revelation:
Dermot Harris Foundation, established by actor Richard Harris in memory of his brother, to provide scholarships for Irish students to the University of Scranton, 1988 to the present.
SMOM by mention:

A rather salient selection from Harris' filmography:

Julius Caesar (2002) (TV) .... Lucius Cornelius Sulla
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) .... Abbé Faria
Gladiator (2000) .... Marcus Aurelius
Patriot Games (1992) .... Paddy O'Neil
Cromwell (1970) .... Oliver Cromwell

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