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Alan Rickman, legendary British actor, is dead at 69

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 09:  Actor Alan Rickman attends The Public Theater's Annual Gala at Delacorte Theater on June 9, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 09: Actor Alan Rickman attends The Public Theater's Annual Gala at Delacorte Theater on June 9, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)
Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

Alan Rickman, a singular, sardonic legend of stage and screen, has died at the age of 69 from cancer, his family confirmed Thursday.

The widely admired British actor was known for his distinctive voice and his withering presence. He played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films and brought tremendous range and pathos to a complicated character.

He was also famous for playing the German terrorist Hans Gruber in Die Hard:

And if anyone on Earth could bring to life the morose Marvin the Paranoid Android in the movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it was Rickman.

Rickman was also an accomplished stage actor, performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company and and on Broadway. He earned a Tony nomination for his role as Valmont in Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Rickman took a delightful self-parodying turn in Galaxy Quest as a Shakespearean actor who has grown weary of his sci-fi fandom, which would turn out to be even more relevant after Rickman's Harry Potter fame.

He was so riveting that millions gladly spent seven minutes watching him flip a table in slow motion on YouTube:

Humble and devoted to the craft of theater, Rickman took his adoring fans and his sex symbol status in stride. He was untroubled by the fact that he had never won an Oscar. "Parts win prizes, not actors," he said in 2008.

Rickman was passionate and politically involved. His friend the journalist Katharine Viner remembers how they butted heads at first while collaborating on a play about American activist Rachel Corrie:

We had, shall we say, a lot of vigorous debate. Once, when I said something like: "Let’s just get on with it," he turned to me and said, dripping with flamboyant disdain: ""Dear God, you’re such a fucking JOURNALIST." We fought. He found me wearisome, then.

But, Viner said, Rickman turned out to be "the most loyal, playful, and generous of friends," someone who always had time for a 2 am phone call or a friend's opening night even after he was ill.

Read more about Rickman's irreplaceable talent at the Guardian.