10 Surprising Facts About Alan Rickman

Marsaili McGrath, Getty Images for KC Events
Marsaili McGrath, Getty Images for KC Events

On January 14, 2016, the world lost one of its most enigmatic actors when Alan Rickman passed away following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. On what would have been his 73rd birthday, we’re looking back at 10 surprising facts about the beloved actor.

1. His first career was in graphic design.

Though he dabbled in drama as a teenager, Alan Rickman’s first career was as an artist. After studying graphic design at Chelsea College of Art and Design, followed by graduate classes at the Royal College of Art, he and a few friends launched their own graphic design business, Graphitti. “It all seems like a 1970s fantasy now,” Rickman told Design Observer when asked about his first career. “A top floor studio in Berwick Street, shared with a photographer, whitewashed brick walls and a vaulted glass ceiling … My job also included hiking around a huge and heavy portfolio to all the art directors. Again, this was BC: Before Computers. We worked on magazine layouts and illustrations, book jackets, album sleeves, and advertising. And learned quickly that we had to pay our bills immediately, but that the same rule did not apply to our clients. A constant financial tightrope. It came to a natural finish when I started to work in fringe theater and then went to RADA, and the others merged with Alan Aldridge at Ink Studios. Happy endings.”

2. He came to acting later in life.

Alan Rickman
VINCE BUCCI, AFP/Getty Images

Though he found success in the graphic design world, Rickman admitted that, “theater was always lurking in the background.” So, while still working as a graphic designer, he sent a letter to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to request an audition. "I was getting older and I thought if you really want to do this you've got to get on with it," he told GQ in 1992. He was 26 years old when he auditioned with a speech from Richard III and was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious acting academy. “My body finally sighed with relief at being in the right place," he said. "I had really come home at last."

3. He auditioned for Return of the Jedi.

In The Making of Return of the Jedi, author J.W. Rinzler revealed that Rickman auditioned for the role of Admiral Moff Jerjerrod, who oversaw the construction of the second Death Star. The role ultimately went to Michael Pennington.

4. He rose to fame in America on the stage.

Rickman’s big break didn’t come in the movies, but on the stage, where he played Vicomte de Valmont in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1985. When the play made the move to Broadway in 1987, Rickman came with it and received both Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations for the role.

5. Die Hard marked his feature film debut.

Rickman owed a debt of gratitude to Sam Neill, who was approached to play Hans Gruber in Die Hard but turned the role down. Then, in the spring of 1987, the film’s casting director saw Rickman playing the dastardly Valmont on Broadway and immediately wanted him for Hans. Though Rickman may have played the part as cool as the other side of the pillow, it was actually his first role in a feature film.

6. He almost turned down the role of Hans Gruber.

Though Die Hard turned Rickman into a hot commodity in Hollywood, he later admitted that he almost turned down the role. “I didn’t know anything about L.A. I didn’t know anything about the film business … I’d never made a film before, but I was extremely cheap,” Rickman said of the casting process for Die Hard—and when he read the script he thought, “What the hell is this? I’m not doing an action movie.” Fortunately, upon closer consideration, he realized that the film was “quite revolutionary, and quietly so.”

7. He was supposed to star in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

If Rickman has Sam Neill to thank for his Hollywood stardom, Hugh Grant should be thanking Alan Rickman. Grant was not the first choice to play Charles in his breakthrough film, Four Weddings and a Funeral; screenwriter Richard Curtis thought Grant was “too handsome” for the part. At one point, it was supposed to star Alan Rickman and Marisa Tomei. Fortunately for Grant, that changed.

8. Rickman has the "perfect" male voice, according to science.

In 2008, a pair of researchers—linguist Andrew Linn and sound engineer Shannon Harris—were tasked with analyzing voice samples from more than 50 people to determine what makes the perfect human voice. For men, it turns out that it’s a combination of Rickman and Jeremy Irons.

"As humans we instinctively know which voices send shivers down our spine and which make us shudder with disgust,” Linn explained. "The emotional responses panelists had to the voices were surprising and go some way to explaining how voiceover artists or radio DJs are selected, or why particular celebrity voices appeal."

Helen Mirren seemed to confirm this when she spoke about Rickman following his death, saying: "Alan was a towering person, physically, mentally and as an artist. He was utterly distinctive, with a voice that could suggest honey or a hidden stiletto blade, and the profile of a Roman Emperor."

9. J.K. Rowling gave him some confidential Harry Potter intel.

Moviegoers of a specific generation know Rickman best for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. When the actor took on the role, the book series was only four installments in, so there was still much to learn about what made Snape tick. In order to help Rickman play the character all the way through to the end, the author shared some information about Snape that wouldn’t be revealed until much later.

According to Rickman, it was “one tiny, little, left of field piece of information,” but it “helped me think that he was more complicated and that the story was not going to be as straight down the line as everybody thought. If you remember when I did the first film she’d only written three or four books, so nobody knew where it was really going except her. And it was important for her that I know something, but she only gave me a tiny piece of information which helped me think it was a more ambiguous route.”

10. He met his longtime partner when he was just a teenager.

Alan Rickman and Rima Horton
Tristan Fewings, Getty Images for Qatar Goodwood Festival

In 1965, while a student at Chelsea College of Art and Design, Rickman—then 19 years old—met his first love, 18-year-old Rima Horton, who served as a Labour Party councilor on the Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council from 1986 to 2006. She has also worked as an economics lecturer at Kingston University. Though it would take until 2012 for the couple to tie the knot in a private ceremony in New York, they remained a devoted couple for more than 50 years, until his passing. "She’s tolerant,” Rickman once said of Horton. “She’s incredibly tolerant. Possibly a candidate for sainthood.”

10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars

Jeff Bridges accepts the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in 2010.
Jeff Bridges accepts the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in 2010.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Winning an Oscar is, for most people, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you're Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you'd think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are (we're looking at you, Colin Firth).

1. Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie with her Oscar in 2000.
HO/AMPAS

At the 2000 Academy Awards ceremony, after Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world collectively squirm, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage when Marcheline died in 2007, but it hasn't yet surfaced. "I didn't actually lose it," Jolie said, "but nobody knows where it is at the moment."

2. Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg with her Oscar.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. "Oscar will never leave my house again," Goldberg said.

3. Olympia Dukakis

Olympia Dukakis with an Oscar statue.
Steven Henry/Getty Images

When Olympia Dukakis's Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. "For $78," they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando in 1957.
Keystone/Getty Images

"I don't know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront," Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. "Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared." He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. "The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don't know where it is now."

5. Jeff Bridges

Actor Jeff Bridges, winner of Best Actor award for
Jeff Bridges, winner of the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart, poses in the press room at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards on March 7, 2010.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

In 2010, Hollywood legend Jeff Bridges won his first-ever Oscar for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the time next year's ceremony rolled around, when he was nominated yet again for his role in the Coen brothers's True Grit

When asked about his year-old statuette, Bridges admitted that "It's been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now." Finding the MIA Oscar seemed even more urgent when Bridges lost the 2011 Best Actor Oscar to Colin Firth for The King's Speech. "I'm hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven't won a spare," Bridges said. "But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better." 

6. Colin Firth

Colin Firth with his Oscar in 2011.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed Colin Firth as he said those aforementioned words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. Matt Damon

Actor Matt Damon in 1999
Brenda Chase/Hulton Archive

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn't sure where his award went. "I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it," Damon said in 2007.

8. Margaret O'Brien

Child actress Margaret O'Brien.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1945, 7-year-old Margaret O'Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O'Briens' maid took the award home to polish it, as she had done before, but never returned. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O'Brien's mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There's a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O'Brien. "I'll never give it to anyone to polish again," she said.

9. Bing Crosby

Barry Fitzgerald (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while American actor Bing Crosby holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in Going My Way; 1945.
Barry Fitzgerald (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while American actor Bing Crosby holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in Going My Way; 1945.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944's Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school's library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a 3-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. "I wanted to make people laugh," the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. Hattie McDaniel

A publicity still from 1939's Gone with the Wind; at the 1940 Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniel (left) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Vivien Leigh (right) won Best Actress. Olivia de Havilland (center) was also nominated for Best Supporting A
A publicity still from 1939's Gone with the Wind; at the 1940 Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniel (left) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Vivien Leigh (right) won Best Actress. Olivia de Havilland (center) was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

The Most Successful Entertainment Production in History Might Just Surprise You

Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images
Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Last year, Marvel Studios capped off an unprecedented run of success with Avengers: Endgame, a movie promoted as the culmination of over 10 years of storytelling. The film made $2.8 billion, unseating 2009’s Avatar and knocking 1997’s Titanic down to third place. With nearly $3 billion in ticket sales, you would think Endgame would count as the most successful entertainment production of all time—be it a single movie, book, album, or video game.

It isn’t.

While it earned a staggering amount of money, Endgame is hobbled by the fact that theatrical runs last just a few weeks or months. To really roll in the dough, it helps to have a combination of high ticket prices and a show that runs almost in perpetuity. That’s why it’s another Disney production, the Broadway adaption of The Lion King, that can make a credible claim to being the most financially rewarding entertainment effort of all time. Since debuting in 1997, the stage show has grossed $9.1 billion. (The 1994 film, 2019 live action remake, and merchandising aren’t included in that total. If they were, the number rises to $11.6 billion.)

A theater sign for 'The Lion King' is pictured in New York City in March 2003
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The musical, adapted by Julie Taymor, follows the story of the animated original, with lion cub Simba learning to accept his role as king of the Serengeti Plains. It’s estimated the show has been mounted 25 times globally in nine different languages, with more than 100 million people purchasing a ticket to see it.

Does that make Endgame a distant second? Not quite. Another long-running musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, has grossed more than $6 billion since its 1988 debut. The 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto 5 cleared $6 billion in 2018. And if one were to account for inflation, 1939’s Gone with the Wind made $3.44 billion.

The Lion King does have one asterisk, however. If inflation is taken into consideration, then 1978’s arcade classic Space Invaders comes out the winner. The popular coin-op game—which was later ported over to the Atari 2600—was a smash hit. By 1983, it had made $3.8 billion. Accounting for inflation, it earned $13.9 billion. What’s even more impressive is that unlike big-ticket movies and stage shows, Space Invaders did it one quarter at a time.

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