Thursday, January 14, 2016

Alan Rickman Dies At Age 69

(CNN) - Alan Rickman, the British actor with the unforgettable voice who played the brooding Professor Severus Snape in the "Harry Potter" films as well as "Die Hard" villain Hans Gruber, died Thursday after a short battle with cancer, according to his representatives at Independent Talent Group.
He was 69.
    "There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman's death," "Potter" author J.K. Rowling tweeted Thursday.
    Fans had lost "a great talent," she said, and his family "have lost a part of their hearts."
    Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry Potter in the films, posted a statement on Google+ calling Rickman "one of the greatest actors I will ever work with" and one of the nicest, as well.
    "Alan was extremely kind, generous, self-deprecating and funny," Radcliffe wrote. "And certain things obviously became even funnier when delivered in his unmistakable double-bass."
    Alan Rickman

    A smooth-voiced London native, Rickman worked on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in UK television projects before earning his first film role as German terrorist Gruber, opposite Bruce Willis' John McClane, in 1988's "Die Hard."
    He had been in Hollywood only two days, but he almost didn't take the role.
    "I read it, and I said, 'What the hell is this? I'm not doing an action movie,' " he recounted in a 2015 interview with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
    It ended up being one of the most memorably villainous roles in film history.
    In the 2015 interview, Rickman recounted that he helped shape the role, despite being a novice film actor hired because he would work cheap.
    After being fitted to wear a militaristic outfit as leader of a band of terrorists, Rickman suggested that perhaps Gruber could wear a suit, affect an American accent and pretend to be a civilian trapped in the building for a scene with Willis' cop character.
    He said he was told, "You'll wear what you're told."
    "But then I came back, and they handed me the new script" that included the revisions.
    "So you know, it just pays to occasionally use a little bit of theater training when you're doing a movie."
    Despite acclaim for his portrayal of Gruber and performances in movies such as "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," "Truly Madly Deeply" and "Sense and Sensibility," Rickman was never nominated for an Oscar.
    He did win a BAFTA Award for supporting actor in "Robin Hood" and was nominated three other times, including for "Truly Madly Deeply," in 1990, and "Sense and Sensibility" in 1995.
    He also won a Golden Globe in 1997 for best actor in the HBO biopic "Rasputin."
    Although he carried on a lifelong love affair with stage acting, Rickman is probably best known to younger filmgoers as Snape, the antagonistic and bullying wizard who, in the end, plays a crucial role in the Potter saga.
    He took the role in 2001's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" without knowing much about the character.
    "People thought I knew a lot, and I didn't," he said. "When I was asked to do it, there were only three books written."
    But he did have a clue, he said in a 2011 thank-you letter to Rowling at the conclusion of the film series, which saw stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint grow up on screen.
    "Three children have become adults since a phone call with Jo Rowling, containing one small clue, persuaded me that there was more to Snape than an unchanging costume, and that even though only three of the books were out at that time, she held the entire massive but delicate narrative in the surest of hands."
    That knowledge helped shape his portrayal of the character, he told the Los Angeles Times in 2011.
    "It was a punctuation mark in my life every year, because I would be doing other things but always come back to that, and I was always aware of my place in the story even as others around me were not," Rickman told the newspaper.
    His presence was invaluable, "Potter" producer David Heyman told the Los Angeles Times.
    "He had a real understanding of the character, and now looking back, you can see there was always more going on there -- a look, an expression, a sentiment -- that hint at what is to come," Heyman said. "The shadow that he casts in these films is a huge one, and the emotion he conveys is immeasurable."

    Acting was 'an inevitability'

    Rickman was born in 1946 to a working-class West London family. Despite an early interest in acting, he studied graphic design in college and owned a design business with friends after graduating.
    In 1971, at the age of 25, he applied to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, one of the oldest acting schools in England.
    "There was an inevitability about my being an actor since about the age of 7, but there were other roads that had to be traveled first," quoted him as saying.
    In 1978, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, followed by roles in British television and theater.
    In 1985, he won the role of Le Vicomte de Valmont in the stage version of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," his first major villain -- and the breakthrough role for which he was nominated for a Tony Award in 1988.
    Later that year, he went to Hollywood to try his hand at film acting. Despite not knowing much about the film business, he was offered the "Die Hard" role immediately.
    "I'd never made a film before, but I was extremely cheap," he said in the BAFTA interview.
    And despite almost rejecting "Die Hard," he said, the progressive storyline won him over.
    "Every single black character in that film is positive and highly intelligent," he said. "So, 28 years ago, that's quite revolutionary, and quietly so."
    Playing Gruber gave rise to the notion of Rickman as master of villainous roles, one at which he often bristled.
    "I don't see them any of them as one word," Rickman said of his roles in 2011. "It doesn't matter what I'm playing, it's not one word, and I think any actor would say the same."
    Not all of his roles were heavy or dark, of course. In 1999's campy "Galaxy Quest," a heavily made-up Rickman played a classically trained actor named Sir Alexander Dane. In the movie, Dane was a washed-up science-fiction actor whose character had a trademark expression, "by Grabthar's hammer!"
    The exclamation was trending Thursday on Twitter in tribute to Rickman.

    'A rare and unique human being'

    As news of Rickman's death spread, so did the tributes.
    "I'm very sad to hear about Alan today," "Harry Potter" star Emma Watson tweeted. "I feel so lucky to have worked and spent time with such a special man and actor. I'll really miss our conversations."
    Jason Isaacs, who played Lucius Malfoy in the "Potter" films, tweeted, "Heartbreaking news about lovely Alan. Nobody else could be as hilarious, tragic, terrifying & truthful all at the same time."
    British actor Stephen Fry called the news of Rickman's death "desperately sad."
    "A man of such talent, wicked charm and stunning screen and stage presence," Fry wrote. "He'll be sorely missed."
    "He was generous with his time, his insight, his money, his experience, not only to RADA students but to young actors and theatre makers across the spectrum," he said in a statement. "He will be much missed."
    Actress Emma Thompson, who appeared with Rickman in "Judas Kiss," "Love Actually," "Sense and Sensibility" and three of the Harry Potter films, issued a moving statement mourning his death, according to numerous media outlets.
    "Alan was my friend and so this is hard to write because I have just kissed him goodbye," she wrote.
    "What I remember most in this moment of painful leave-taking is his humour, intelligence, wisdom, and kindness," Thompson said in the statement. "His capacity to fell you with a look or lift you with a word.
    "He was, above all things, a rare and unique human being and we shall not see his like again," she said.
    Rickman is survived by his wife, Rima Horton, whom he met when they were teenagers. The couple had no children.
    His fans still have a few new things to look forward to.
    His film "Eye in the Sky," about drone warfare in Kenya, is set for March release. He also did voice work for the upcoming "Alice Through the Looking Glass."

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    Tuesday, January 12, 2016

    David Bowie Dies At Age 69

    (CNN) - David Bowie, whose incomparable sound and chameleon-like ability to reinvent himself made him a pop music fixture for more than four decades, has died. He was 69.

    Bowie died Sunday after an 18-month battle with cancer, his publicist Steve Martin told CNN.
    "David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer," said a statement posted on his official social media accounts. "While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family's privacy during their time of grief."
    Neither his publicist nor the statement elaborated on what type of cancer the singer had.
    Bowie's death has been the regular subject of Internet hoaxes for the last several years. So the news came as a shock to fans and industry insiders when it was confirmed.
    "Very sorry and sad to say it's true. I'll be offline for a while. Love to all," his son, "Moon" film director Duncan Jones, tweeted.

    Marriage of music and fashion

    From a mop-topped unknown named David Jones, to his space-alien alter ego "Ziggy Stardust," to his dapper departure as the soul-influenced Thin White Duke, Bowie married music and fashion in a way few artists have been able to master.
    He was theatrical, he was flamboyant, he was without parallel in his showmanship.
    His albums, especially after his 1972 breakthrough "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," were treated as events. His songs, including "Changes," "Fame," "Heroes" and "Modern Love," were anthemic hits, played constantly on the radio and inspiring generations of musicians.
    With a voice that soared from a baritone to a falsetto, he spoke of carrying on against the odds. Of the terror in knowing what the world is about. Of turning and facing the strange.
    His songs were a salve for the alienated and the misfits of the world.

    That in a nutshell was Bowie: There was hardly a musical style he didn't dabble in -- and indelibly leave his mark upon.
    Since his breakthrough with "Ziggy Stardust," Bowie's reach was eclectic: glam rock, prog rock, pop rock, electronic rock.
    And the results? Electric. To the tune of more than 130 million records sold. The album titles, including "Aladdin Sane," "Station to Station" and "Scary Monsters," are familiar to any music fan.
    Though he didn't have his first No. 1 single in the United States until "Fame" in 1975, he'd already been making a mark with heavily played singles, including "Space Oddity," "Changes," "Suffragette City," "Rebel Rebel" and his first Top 40 hit, 1975's "Young Americans."
    After that, he was almost as present on the singles charts as the album charts, with hits such as "Golden Years," "Under Pressure" (with Queen), "Let's Dance" (another No. 1), "Blue Jean" and "Never Let Me Down."
    "David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime," tweeted rapper Kanye West, as news of Bowie's death made the rounds.

    Changing looks

    He was born David Jones, to a waitress and a nightclub owner in South London on January 8, 1947.
    Though he began his musical life with his birth name, riding the mod wave of the mid-1960s, he changed to "Bowie" to avoid confusion with Davy Jones, the lead singer of the Monkees, who was enjoying serious pop success at the time.
    That reinvention was the first of many. And his timing was often impeccable.
    He released his song about a doomed astronaut, "Space Oddity," just days before the 1969 moon landing.
    Four years later he killed off his most famous creation, the other-worldly "Ziggy Stardust," just at the point where it threatened to overwhelm him.
    He soon transformed into the Thin White Duke, a cocksure but coked-out mad aristrocrat. While Ziggy was all arena rock, the Duke was chilled soul. While Ziggy gave him "Space Oddity," the Duke gave him yet another timeless classic, "Fame," a song co-written with John Lennon, one of his many admirers.
    Such speedy changes could catch his fans off guard.
    "I went to the 'Diamond Dogs' show (in June 1974) expecting something like Ziggy Stardust," fan John Neilson told NPR in 2014. "And then in October I expected to see something like 'Diamond Dogs,' and it was the soul revue. It might as well have been a completely different artist."
    Bowie was as much observer as observed. In a 1974 interview with Dick Cavett, he said he started carrying a cane when he noticed his fans doing so.
    "He was chameleon in many ways, as we know," stage and film producer Robert Fox told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "But he could become a very ordinary-looking man. And sometimes I'd meet him in New York at a café, and people wouldn't recognize him. And they'd be sitting three feet from him. He could just -- he could fit in."