LONDON -- Hell-raising Irishman Richard Harris, for years one of the wild men of British acting along with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, died in a London hospital on Friday.
He had been suffering from Hodgkin’s disease.
The 72-year-old Harris, who later developed a trademark shaggy white mane of hair, made his name with films like “Camelot,” “This Sporting Life” and “A Man Called Horse” as he carved an unmistakable acting niche for himself.
But like Burton and O’Toole, his fame sprang as much from his undoubted acting talents as his hard drinking and womanizing. He was known to go out for a pack of cigarettes and not return for two weeks.
Harris, who was married twice, told Reuters in an interview last year: “I have made 72 movies in my life and been miscast twice -- as a husband.”
The Limerick-born actor with a habitual twinkle in his eye endeared himself to a new generation of fans with his role as Professor Albus Dumbledore in last year’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
It was a role he initially turned down, but was then nagged into taking it on by his 11-year-old granddaughter, Emily, who threatened never to talk to him again if he refused.
“She called me up and said: ‘Poppa, if you don’t play Dumbledore, I will never speak to you again.’ I hung up and called my agent and said I’d do it. I can’t afford to lose that kid,” he said.
His family said Harris had died peacefully. Hodgkin’s is a form of lymphatic cancer.
“With great sadness Damien, Jared and Jamie Harris announce the death of their beloved father Richard Harris. He died peacefully at University College Hospital,” said a statement by his three children.
At a news conference earlier in the day to launch the second Harry Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” producer David Heyman said he and director Chris Columbus had visited Harris in hospital and he appeared to be fighting back.
“He did threaten to kill me if I recast [Professor Dumbledore]. I cannot even repeat what he said. He still has got that fight inside of him,” Columbus said.
Harris had two Oscar nominations during his film career, once for his breakthrough 1963 supporting role as a bitter young coal miner who becomes a professional rugby star in “This Sporting Life” and again nearly 30 years later for his comeback role as an elderly curmudgeon determined to hold on to his property in the 1990 drama “The Field.”
Other film credits included the role of King Arthur in the 1967 movie adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe musical “Camelot” and the portrayal of an English aristocrat captured and tortured by Sioux Indians in the 1970 western “A Man Called Horse.”
Harris, whose gravelly voice made him an unlikely pop star -- despite his singing role in Camelot -- confounded his critics by having a hit in 1968 with a recording of “MacArthur Park.”
Pete Harrison and Paul Majendie contributed to this report.