British actor Alan Rickman, who played the role of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films and portrayed memorable villains in Hollywood movies, has died aged 69, his agent said on Thursday.
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Rickman got his big acting break appearing the Broadway version of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" in the mid-1980s before making his first major film appearance in "Die Hard" soon afterwards.
That was to be the first of many performances as a villain, including the Sheriff of Nottingham in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." In addition to the Potter films, he starred in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street", "Truly Madly Deeply", and "Love, Actually".
In a statement his family said he had died after a battle with cancer.
Though Rickman was primarily known from the movies he appeared in, at heart he was a stage actor and appeared on stage throughout his career.
In 2005, he directed the London production of "My Name is Rachel Corrie," a play about a 23-year-old pro-Palestinian activist who was crushed and killed by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer on March 16, 2003, while attempting to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian building.
The play, which was mounted at the Royal Court Theater in London, was based on published extracts of emails that Corrie, an American citizen, wrote to her parents. His collaborator in the project was Katharine Viner, editor of the Guardian newspaper weekend magazine.
He subsequently directed an off-Broadway production of the play in New York.
The play was very well received by critics and audiences, but created a political storm due to the nature of its content. The controversy prompted the first theater scheduled to stage it in London to withdraw from the project.
In an interview with Haaretz in 2007, Rickman stressed that the play was not an attempt to make a political message. He decided to write and direct it, he said, because of the human situation that Corrie represented and the emotional texts that she wrote.
"I never imagined that the play would create such acute controversy," he said. "Many Jews supported it. The New York producer was Jewish and we held a discussion after every performance.
"Both Israelis and Palestinians participated in the discussions and there was no shouting in the theater. People simply listened to each other.