Richard Harris, the Irishman known as much for his carousing as for his masterful acting in such films as A Man Called Horse and This Sporting Life, died Friday after a brief bout with Hodgkin's disease. He was 72.
"With great sadness, Damian, Jarid and Jamie Harris announced the death of their beloved father, Richard Harris," the actor's family said in a statement. "He died peacefully at University College Hospital."
Word of Harris' death comes less than two weeks after his agent stated Harris was responding "extremely well" to chemotherapy at the London hospital.
In fact, the agent said on October 15 that Harris "should be released from the clinic soon" and be fully recuperated in time to reprise his role as the kindly Professor Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, slated to begin shooting in March.
Harris was reportedly hospitalized in August after complaining of a severe chest infection. It was then doctors diagnosed the Hodgkin's, a cancer that attacks the body's lymph nodes.
Harris' condition was serious enough to force the filmmakers of the upcoming Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, due out November 15, to use a double to complete some of the actor's final scenes. According to British press reports, they also began looking for potential replacements to be cast in future Harry Potter installments. Now, they have no choice.
"He will be greatly missed," Potter producer David Heyman told Britain's ITV News. "He is Dumbledore in many people's eyes. In truth he is irreplaceable.
"We will find a new Dumbledore, but there will only be one Richard Harris."
Long before assuming Potter duties, Harris gained acting-legend status for his intense performance in 1963's This Sporting Life. His turn as violent coal miner Frank Machin earned him a Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival and his first of two Best Actor Academy Award nominations.
Born October 1, 1930, in Limerick, Ireland, Harris began his career on the British stage before transitioning to film in the late 1950s. Some of his key movie credits include turns as a squadron leader alongside David Niven, Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn in 1961's The Guns of Navarone and as a singing King Arthur in the film version of Camelot, which won him a Golden Globe.
Harris had a brief run a singer--aside from his Camelot chores, he recorded a Top 10 version of "Mac Arthur Park." He also won a Grammy for the spoken-word album Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Before Dumbledore, Harris' most popular role was John Morgan, an English aristocrat captured by Sioux in the franchise-launching surprise 1970 hit A Man Called Horse. The film spawned two sequels and later prompted Harris to accuse Kevin Costner of swiping scenes from the series for Dances with Wolves.
Harris' celluloid résumé also includes the 1962 Marlon Brando version of Mutiny on the Bounty and Robin and Marian, in which he costarred with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, and 1970's The Molly Maguires, also with Connery.
Then there were the mid-'70s flops (Orca or Game for Vultures, anyone?) that prompted Harris to abandon moviemaking. "I made a decision that half was made for me by the motion-picture business," he once recalled. "Around 1980, I decided that was it, my career was really finished. I was doing a series of movies I wasn't happy doing. The standard of the movies was very low. Because of what I was offered, I was unhappy."
He quit Hollywood, toured in a revival of Camelot and stopped working altogether by the late '80s. (He had purchased the stage rights to the Lerner and Loewe musical, which earned him a small fortune, allowing him his extended hiatus from show biz.)
Then Harris made a remarkable comeback, snaring a Best Actor Oscar nomination for 1990's The Field, followed by a supporting role as gunslinger English Bob in Clint Eastwood's 1992 Oscar-winning western Unforgiven.
More blockbusters followed, including Gladiator, in which he played Marcus Aurelius, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the first movie adventure of J.K. Rowling's boy wizard.
Harris signed on to play Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore after his young granddaughter threatened never to speak to him again if he refused, but he wasn't always so cuddly.
An inveterate hellraiser in the '60s and '70s, the actor was once drinking buddy to Peter O'Toole and the late Richard Burton. Harris nearly died from a cocaine overdose in 1978. (According to one newspaper report, he had been in intensive care five times over the years and had been given last rites twice.) After his O.D., and under doctors' orders, he gave up his hard-living ways in 1982--after downing two bottles of wine first--and had remained clean and sober since.
Twice wed and twice divorced, he is survived by his three sons from his first marriage, to Elizabeth Rees-Williams.
His family will hold a private funeral service in London and then have his ashes scattered near his home in the Bahamas.
(Updated 10/26/02 at 5:45 p.m. PT.)