Actor Alan Rickman has died from cancer

Alan Rickman pictured in April 2015. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Alan Rickman pictured in April 2015. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Alan Rickman, best known for his roles in the Harry Potter films and Die Hard, has died aged 69.

File photo dated 16/10/98 of Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman during a photocall rehearsal for 'Anthony

File photo dated 16/10/98 of Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman during a photocall rehearsal for 'Anthony and Cleopatra' at the Olivier Theatre on London's South Bank. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The much-loved British actor first shot to stardom in 1988 when he played Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis's adversary, in Die Hard.

He gained legions of fans for his role as Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films.

A family statement said: 'The actor and director Alan Rickman has died from cancer at the age of 69. He was surrounded by family and friends.'

Rickman's death comes just months ahead of the release of a new film called Eye In The Sky in which he stars alongside Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul.

The thriller is set to open in UK cinemas on April 8, according to IMDb.

And the star had also completed another film set for release later this year called Alice Through The Looking Glass.

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Just last year he revealed he had married his high school sweetheart after 50 years together.

Rickman had been in a relationship with Rima Horton since they met when he was 19 and she was 18.

The pair had been living together in London for 50 years, and Rickman revealed to German newspaper Bild last April that they recently tied the knot in secret.

Asked what the secret of his successful relationship was, though they were not married, he replied: 'We are married, just recently.'

He added: 'It was great because no one was there. After the wedding in New York, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and ate lunch.'

Harry Potter actor James Phelps, who played Fred Weasley, has led tributes to Alan Rickman.

Phelps said he was shocked and sad to hear the news.

He tweeted: 'One of the nicest actors I've ever met. Thoughts and prayers with his family at this time.'

TV star Stephen Fry wrote: 'What desperately sad news about Alan Rickman. A man of such talent, wicked charm & stunning screen & stage presence. He'll be sorely missed.'

'The ultimate baddie'

He will be warmly remembered by his legions of fans as the ultimate on-screen 'baddie'.

With his languid voice and sharp features, Rickman was well-equipped to play villainous characters in films including Harry Potter, Die Hard and Rasputin - but he was also a consummate stage actor.

Rickman gained legions of fans after he took the role of potions master Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, playing the boy wizard's nemesis who ultimately turned out to have his best interests at heart.

But by the time he starred in the first Harry Potter film in 2001, he was already well-known for his brilliance in darker roles.

He first shot to global acclaim in 1988 when he starred as Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis's adversary in Die Hard.

Rickman picked up a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award for his leading role in 1995 film Rasputin, and his turn as the outrageous sheriff of Nottingham in 1991's Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves earned him a Bafta.

However, the 'baddies' were not all he could turn his hand to. As a leading man, he starred with Juliet Stevenson in supernatural romance Truly, Madly, Deeply, and he also attracted critical acclaim for his role as the honourable Colonel Brandon in Sense And Sensibility, opposite Emma Thompson.

His acting partnership with Thompson also led to roles in 2003's Love, Actually, in which they played husband and wife, and BBC drama The Song Of Lunch.

Like many British actors, Rickman's career began on the stage after he graduated from drama school Rada, and he frequently returned to the stage throughout his career.

Hailing from a working-class London family, he supported himself as a dresser before finding work with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

His breakthrough role came two years before he appeared in Die Hard, when he was cast as the cruel and manipulative seducer Le Vicomte in the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1986. This earned him a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play and was an indication of his talent at playing the part of the villain.

In 2002, he received acclaim for his part in Noel Coward's Private Lives, a play which transferred to Broadway after a successful London run.

Though he never won an Oscar, Rickman did not view it as a snub. 'Parts win prizes, not actors,' he told US television network IFC in 2008.

The actor quietly wed his partner of 50 years, economics lecturer and Labour councillor Rima Horton, in 2012. They had been together since they met as teenagers and had no children.

Rickman will make a final screen appearance in a new film titled Eye In The Sky, due for release later this year, in which he stars opposite Dame Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul - and fans will be able to hear him as the voice of the Blue Caterpillar in Alice Through The Looking Glass.

He died surrounded by family and friends.

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