British thespian Alan Rickman, best known by young movie fans for his role as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies, died earlier today in London. He was 69.

Rickman’s family confirmed the news to The Guardian newspaper, saying that he died “surrounded by family and friends”. The actor had been suffering from cancer.

Rickman was born on Feb 21, 1946 and began his acting career on stage, after graduating from the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art in London some time in the 1970s. He gradually moved on to TV and films; in 1988 he starred as the memorable villain Hans Gruber opposite Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

In 1991, Rickman played another notable villain – Sheriff of Nottingham – in the movie Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves that also starred Kevin Costner.

Rickman’s distinctive voice and slow, unwavering way of delivering each speech made him the perfect choice to play Professor Snape, the misunderstood “good” villain in the Harry Potter movie series, the first of which was released in 2001.

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Rickman’s other movies included Love, Actually, Galaxy Quest, Sense & Sensibility, Rasputin: Dark Servant Of Destiny and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. Last year, he reunited with his Sense & Sensibility co-star Kate Winslet in the period piece A Little Chaos.

Rickman had won numerous acting awards including a Tony Award, an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.

He is survived by his wife, Rima Horton, whom he met in 1965 but only officially married in 2012.

Rickman in Galaxy Quest.

Rickman in Galaxy Quest.

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