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Actor Sir Michael Gambon has died peacefully in hospital aged 82 following a bout of pneumonia, his family revealed today.
The towering figure of the British stage and screen began his 60-year career treading the boards with Sir Laurence Olivier and was much-loved with younger audiences as Albus Dumbledore in six of the eight Harry Potter movies.
His rise to one of the world’s most celebrated actors was all the more extraordinary given his humble background, born in Dublin to a working class couple who encouraged him to be an engineer after he left school at 15.
He was nominated for 13 Olivier awards after he appeared in countless productions of works by William Shakespeare, excelling as Othello. He also starred in a string of hit TV shows and in 1968 won an audition to be the next James Bond in On her Majesty’s Secret Service after Sean Connery quit. But he told producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli ‘I haven’t got nice hair and I’m a bit fat’ and the part went to George Lazenby.
Knighted in 1999, he was loved for playing French detective Jules Maigret. As Dumbledore he became world famous after taking the part following the death of fellow Irishman Richard Harris. Sir Michael said when he played the headmaster of Hogwarts, he would ‘stick on a beard and play me’, calling it ‘no feat’, although his millions of fans disagreed.
A statement on behalf of his wife Lady Gambon and son Fergus Gambon, issued by publicist Clair Dobbs, said: ‘We are devastated to announce the loss of Sir Michael Gambon.
Michael Gambon, pictured as Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies, has died aged 82
Michael Gambon with his wife Lady Gambon, with whom he had a son, Fergus
Michael Gambon and his partner Philippa Hart, with whom he had two young sons
In 1999, Sir Michael was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to drama. His son Fergus is an auctioneer who is an expert on Antiques Roadshow
Sir Michael with Sir Michael Caine (left) at a press conference for their movie ‘The Actors’ at the Four Seasons Hotel on May 8, 2003 in Dublin
The actor with Dame Maggie Smith and Lady Antonia Fraser attend the press night of ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ at the Duchess Theatre on September 22, 2010 in London
‘Beloved husband and father, Michael died peacefully in hospital with his wife Anne and son Fergus at his bedside, following a bout of pneumonia. Michael was 82.
‘We ask that you respect our privacy at this painful time and thank you for your messages of support and love.’
He married retired mathematician Lady Anne in 1962. Their son Fergus is an expert on ceramics and works for auctioneer’s Bonhams. He also regularly appears on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.
Sir Michael was a working-class boy made good. He was born in Dublin, his mother was a seamstress and his father an engineer for whom the notion of a career on the stage was totally alien.
He left school at 15 with no qualifications, then took up an apprenticeship as a toolmaker. By the age of 21 he was a qualified engineer, but only worked as such for a year before deciding to become an actor.
Sir Michael, who has won four TV Baftas, is known for his extensive back catalogue of work across TV, film, radio and theatre over a career spanning decades.
In recent years he played Albus Dumbledore in six of the eight Harry Potter films.
Speaking about it recently he said of playing the wizard that he does not ‘have to play anyone really.’
He said: ‘I just stick on a beard and play me, so it’s no great feat. I never ease into a role—every part I play is just a variant of my own personality. I’m not really a character actor at all…’
Away from acting, it was reported in 2015 that he split his time between the £5million country pile he shared with Lady Gambon near Gravesend in Kent, and a home in West London to his young sons, Tom and Will with set designer Philippa Hart in West London. The boys are believed to be in their early teens.
Sir Michael Gambon and Philippa Hart in 2015
Sir Michael split his time between his wife Lady Anne, left, Philippa Hart, right, who is mother to his two young sons Tom and Will
The star with Philippa Hart and their eldest son Tom at playwright Tom Stoppard’s 80th birthday party six years ago
Former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has expressed his condolences after the death of Sir Michael Gambon, recalling the actor was such a ‘tremendous guest’ he had a corner named ‘The Gambon’ on the BBC show’s race track, because he went through it on two wheels
Sir Michael and Philippa had been in a relationship since 2000, when they worked together on the film Longitude, in which he starred as the 18th-century watchmaker John Harrison.
Within a year of their meeting, he was openly introducing her as his girlfriend to Charles Dance, Dame Maggie Smith and other cast members on his next movie, the Oscar-winning Gosford Park, in which he played a philandering aristocrat.
And while his wife was initially said to be devastated by the news, with Sir Michael moving out of their home, she evidently came to terms with the arrangement, as he subsequently moved back in.
He then split his time between both families, roaring from London to Kent and back in his selection of sports cars including a Ferrari, a Mercedes and a 178mph Audi R8 which were his pride and joy. The actor was always protective when it came to his private life, once replying ‘what wife’ when asked about his marriage.
His love of fast cars was renowned. He was also a qualified pilot.
Former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has expressed his condolences after the death of Sir Michael Gambon, recalling the actor was such a ‘tremendous guest’ he had a corner named ‘The Gambon’ on the BBC show’s race track, because he went through it on two wheels.
‘I’m so sad to hear that Michael Gambon has died,’ Clarkson tweeted.
‘He was hugely amusing, and such a tremendous guest, we even named a corner after him.’
Harry Potter stars Robbie Coltrane and Michael Gambon in New York in 2011
Sir Michael as Winston Churchill in Churchill’s Secret, a 2016 drama about the war hero’s stroke and its aftermath
The actor played the Prime Minister of the UK in 2002 comedy film Ali G Indahouse
Sir Michael attends the World Premiere of ‘Dad’s Army’ at Odeon Leicester Square on January 26, 2016
The actor starred as Private Godfrey in hit comedy Dad’s Army. He is seen in a 2016 pilot
Sir Michael being interviewed by Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear. He later had a Test Track Corner named after him
Sir Michael with Cate Blanchett during a film premiere in London’s Leicester Square
The actor starring as Maigret, a French detective (left) and in 1974 show ‘Orson Welles Great Mysteries
Sir Michael in 1987 with Dame Judi Dench at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards
He is also known for playing French detective Jules Maigret in ITV series Maigret, and for starring in the BBC series, The Singing Detective.
Sir Michael made his first appearance on stage in a production of Othello at the Gates Theatre, Dublin in 1962 and was knighted for his contribution to the entertainment industry in 1998.
He put in a memorable performance in the BBC’s 2015 adaptation of JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy and his illustrious theatre career includes appearances in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests, The Life Of Galileo and Nicholas Hytner’s National Theatre production of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2.
In 2016 he appeared as Private Godfrey in the big screen adaptation of Dad’s Army, and his other film roles included period dramas such as 2010’s The King’s Speech, 2001’s Gosford Park and 2017’s Victoria & Abdul.
Sir Michael was also recognised by American awards with Emmy nominations for Mr Woodhouse in 2010 for an adaption of Jane Austen’s Emma and as former US president Lyndon B Johnson in Path To War in 2002.
His turn in David Hare play Skylight, about the fallout of an affair, also led to a Tony nod in 1997 and earlier in 1990 he secured an Olivier Award for comedy performance of the year for diplomatic comedy Man Of The Moment at the Globe, now the Gielgud Theatre.
Gambon retired from the stage in 2015 after struggling to remember his lines in front of an audience due to his advancing age. He once told the Sunday Times Magazine: ‘It’s a horrible thing to admit, but I can’t do it. It breaks my heart.’
Comedian David Baddiel is among those paying tribute to Sir Michael Gambon, describing his theatre performance as ‘the best acting I’ve ever seen’.
Posting to X, formerly Twitter, Baddiel said: ‘First time I ever went to see any Theatre with a capital T it was Michael Gambon in Brecht’s Life Of Galileo at The National in 1980.
‘It’s still the best stage acting I’ve ever seen. RIP.’
The actor in a 2008 adaptation of Brideshead Revisted with Ben Whishaw and Hayley Atwell
Sir Michael with John Carson and Jennifer Hilary in a 1980 episode of ‘Tales Of The Unexpected’
Sir Michael on the first night of Samuel Becketts ‘Endgame’ at the Albert Theatre St Martins Lane in London in 2004
Sir Michael as Winston Churchill in 2016 drama Churchill’s Secret. Pictured alongside him are Lindsay Duncan as Clementine Churchill and Romola Garai as Millie Appleyard
Irish film and TV actress Fiona Shaw has said she will remember her Harry Potter co-star Sir Michael Gambon for being a ‘brilliant, magnificent trickster’.
Shaw, who played Petunia Dursley in the film franchise while Sir Michael played Professor Albus Dumbledore, told BBC Radio 4: ‘I will remember him because he was also a gun maker, he could he could make guns, he always said he could fool the V&A into believing that they were 18th century guns.
‘So I will think of him as a trickster, just brilliant, magnificent trickster, but with text, there was nothing like him, he could do anything.’
She also recalled working with him on the Harry Potter films: ‘He took over from Richard Harris and of course, he began to mimic Richard Harris, who had recently died, and he would do his accent, the slight Irish accent.
‘Which of course he always loved having an excuse to do because his family had come from Ireland, and gone to live in Camden. He just loved the precariousness of reality and unreality and, of course, that made him a very great actor.’
Shaw added: ‘He did once say to me in a car ‘I know I go on a lot about this and that, but actually in the end, there is only acting’. I think he was always pretending that he didn’t take it seriously, but he took it profoundly seriously, I think.’
Actor James Phelps, who played Fred Weasley in the Harry Potter film series described him as ‘a legend’.
‘Very sorry to hear about the passing of Michael Gambon. He was, on and off the camera, a legend,’ he tweeted.
The actor shared a screenshot of text describing ‘one of the highlights’ of his time on set with Sir Michael.
The excerpt read: ‘In between setups Michael asked what I was up to that weekend. As it happened my brother and I were reading Peter and the Wolf with the Manchester Halle Orchestra.’
Phelps said Sir Michael offered to share notes with him and his twin brother, Oliver, who played George Weasley in the films.
‘We spent what should have been his downtime going over my weekend gig. It is a memory that I’ve always had as one of the highlights of my (Harry Potter) days.’