Alan Rickman was the Epitome of Film and the Artistic Endeavor

God, this is hard.

Here I am again, staring at my computer overwhelmed with feeling at the sudden passing of an icon, and wordless — but not taking a moment to add my small, unimportant voice in tribute seems like an insult.

Alan Rickman wasn’t just my childhood, he was film for me. Period. Die Hard, Robin Hood, Truly Madly Deeply, Quigley Down Under, Sense and Sensibility, Galaxy Quest, Dogma, Love Actually, Sweeney Todd, Harry Potter. Just think about that list for a second.

The first time I saw Die Hard, I was mesmerized. I was eight, maybe nine, and had never seen anything like him on a movie screen before. I couldn’t take my eyes off him — his captivating presence, his effortless magnetism, every choice of body language and dialogue delivery. He didn’t just read lines, he transformed them into a kind of poetry: hummed, mused, chewed, eviscerated them into something new. I read pages of emotion in one look, a quirk of an eyebrow, or a deadly silence. And that much-revered, divine gift of a voice other actors might kill for, that could alternatively strike a knife of cold terror between your ribs or weaken your knees with perfectly enunciated, seductive depth. He introduced me to the notion that I could adore the bad guy even more than the hero; he was just as compelling, just as fascinating.

As effective a villain as a romantic lead, an underrated comedic genius, never afraid to tackle the complex gray areas in-between, Rickman influenced, shaped, and changed my movie-viewing experience, and for the unquestionable better. He was the first actor to make a lasting impression on me, and I watched every movie he was in with an almost religious fervor. No matter how small his role, he guaranteed to steal the film out from under everyone with astonishingly rich, impeccable performances, whether they were manipulative evil or aching tenderness. His exuberant glee in Prince of Thieves; the quiet, pained longing in Sense and Sensibility; the perfectly arch bitterness of Galaxy Quest. Each one a joy and privilege to watch. Many are labeled masters of their craft, but Rickman was the conductor of his own acting opera: a true Shakesperian instrument with enormous range and utterly beguiling grace notes.

For one generation he’s the elegant, viper-like Hans Gruber, a masterful performance too good for an action movie that forever changed cinema’s perception of and approach to villainy (and his first movie!). For another generation he’s the calculating, mysterious Professor Snape, a role he embodied with such captivating elegance and unbelievable pathos that he elevated it into something truly special beyond a franchise blockbuster; something real in a fantasy world of magic. He was the torn apart broken heart of the story, a well of barely suppressed grief.

For me, he’s both and all roles in between. His performances and my life go hand-in-hand, and I know I’m not the only one.

Obviously I had an adolescent crush, but it was more than that. As I grew up, my appreciation for his acting grew with me, and my appreciation for the man as a person. Ever gracious, kind, generous, and thoughtful, committed to the arts, he warmed my heart even though we were complete strangers. It’s that same phenomenon I tried, poorly, to understand with David Bowie’s passing — how an artist we’ve never met, who isn’t a family member or close friend, made such an impact on our lives that the loss of them leaves us heavy-hearted and fragile; to a seemingly ridiculous degree, since we had no personal relationship.

But that’s the power of art. Of storytelling. Of acting, and performance, that a stranger’s death creates a swell of grief for millions simply because of his talent and character. Alan Rickman left one of the most indelible marks possible on cinema and those who watched. It seems unreal to accept that he was a mortal like the rest of us, and he wouldn’t always simply be there. His passing feels like a cruelty, even though he lived a long, successful, happy life — stolen from his loved ones at 69 from a horrible disease, too much like the other British icon who went before him this week.

I was at work when the news broke, and I cried.

Facebook pointed me toward a beautifully resonate blog post by Julie E. Richardson that I’d be remiss not to share:

Look, people die every day. I know this. And sometimes in awful and horrible and tragic ways, nothing like a man who has, by all accounts, lived a full and meaningful life, passing away (so the news reports say) surrounded by those who loved and knew him best. And my day-to-day life will be no different now that Mr. Rickman is gone. But the stars, they feel a bit dimmer today. It seems like maybe something extra-special has been temporarily sapped from the Universe.

[…] This is why the arts matter, people. This is why stories–even if (and especially often) made up ones–burrow under our skin and become part of who we are. This is why the deep passion that the likes of Robin Williams and Alan Rickman and others offered the world is so deeply missed when they’re gone. This is why we must keep telling stories. Raising artists. Nurturing the creativity of our children. It matters. Wholeheartedly and in ways we don’t even understand.

Every fiber of my being agrees.

For me and many, Alan was the peerless epitome of the arts; both the height of performing, and the experience of viewing. As I have with Bowie, I plan to spend the next several days surrounding myself with his work. The work endures, and lives on when they can’t, and the best thing I can do is celebrate them.

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