Michael Gambon, British actor who played Dumbledore, dies aged 82

Published September 28, 2023
Oliver Phelps (L), Daniel Radcliffe (2nd L), Michael Gambon (back R) and Bonnie Wright (far R) from the “Harry Potter” movies wave during the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park at the Universal Studio Resort in Orlando, Florida June 18, 2010. — Reuters
Oliver Phelps (L), Daniel Radcliffe (2nd L), Michael Gambon (back R) and Bonnie Wright (far R) from the “Harry Potter” movies wave during the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park at the Universal Studio Resort in Orlando, Florida June 18, 2010. — Reuters

British-Irish actor Michael Gambon, best known to global audiences for playing the wise professor Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movie franchise and whose career was launched by his mentor Laurence Olivier, died aged 82 on Thursday.

He died peacefully in the hospital, PA Media reported citing a family statement.

Gambon began his acting on the stage in the early 1960s and later moved into TV and film. Notable film roles include a psychotic mob leader in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover in 1989 and the elderly King George V in Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech in 2010.

But his best-known role was as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter franchise, a role he took over from the third instalment in the eight-movie series after he replaced the late Richard Harris in 2004. Gambon played down the praise for his performance and said he simply played himself “with a stuck-on beard and a long robe”.

Michael John Gambon was born on October 19, 1940, in Dublin to a seamstress mother and an engineer father. The family moved to Camden Town in London when Gambon was six as his father sought work in the city’s post-war rebuilding.

Gambon left school aged 15 to begin an engineering apprenticeship and by 21 he was fully qualified. However, he was also a member of an amateur theatre group and always knew he would act, he told The Herald newspaper in 2004. He was inspired by American actors Marlon Brando and James Dean, who he believed reflected the angst of teenage boys.

In 1962 he auditioned for the great Shakespearean actor Olivier who made him one of the founding members of the National Theatre at the Old Vic, alongside other young emerging greats that included Derek Jacobi and Maggie Smith.

Gambon built his reputation on the stage over the following years, making his name in particular with his 1980 portrayal of Galileo in John Dexter’s Life of Galileo.

The 1980s brought wider attention with the lead role in the 1986 TV show The Singing Detective, in which he played a writer suffering from a debilitating skin condition whose imagination provided the only escape from his pain. The performance won him one of his four BAFTAs.

He also won three Olivier Awards and two ensemble cast Screen Actors Guild Awards — for 2001’s Gosford Park and The King’s Speech.

Gambon was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1992 and knighted for services to drama in 1998, something he called “a nice little present”, although he did not use the title.

A mischievous personality, he often made up stories. For years he showed fellow actors a signed photograph of Robert De Niro which he had in fact inscribed himself before ever meeting the American actor.

He revealed in an episode of The Late Late Show in Ireland that he convinced his mother he was friends with the pope.

Gambon retired from the stage in 2015 after suffering long-term memory problems but continued to act onscreen until 2019. He told an interviewer in 2002 that his work made him feel “the luckiest man in the world”.

Gambon married Anne Miller in 1962, and the couple had a son. While they never divorced, in later years he also had another partner, set designer Philippa Hart, 25 years his junior, with whom he had two children.

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