I don’t remember when or why Alan Rickman first came onto my radar. It wasn’t because of Harry Potter—a bandwagon I only joined long after it became a global phenomenon—and I’d probably have to trawl through my old LiveJournal archives to figure it out. Doesn’t matter. He’s such a central figure in my pantheon of favorite actors, and his work is so woven into the last decade of my life that it’s part of the fabric.
Whatever sparked my initial mania for him propelled me to hunt down the rest of his work like a greedy seek-and-binge-watch missile: even the obscurer, earlier stuff like The Barchester Chronicles, the weird period dramas like Mesmer and Rasputin, and the 1978 BBC Romeo and Juliet in which he sported an epic bowl cut and was slain by Romeo after a hilarious fight scene that looked more like a lyrical dance-battle. I endured two hours of Kevin Costner mulleting his way through Robin Hood, the testosterone-saturated bulletfest known as Die Hard, and Tim Burton’s self-indulgent hatchet job on Sweeney Todd, all for him. Come to think of it, I’d argue that we misremember a lot of so-so movies as being awesome simply because he was in them. (Case in point: The best part of Love Actually is his mounting panic as Rowan Atkinson painstakingly gift-wraps a necklace for his mistress.) He brought wit and depth and honesty and lacerating humor and sex appeal to everything he did.
Then there were the movies I really loved, the ones I obsessively watched and re-watched: Snow Cake, An Awfully Big Adventure, Dogma, Sense and Sensibility, Closet Land, and Galaxy Quest, in which he made me howl with laughter as a has-been theatre titan promoting a big box store with the flat affect of the utterly demoralized. His focus and intensity onscreen were captivating, and I studied him as though by watching him intently enough I could transfuse some of his magic into me. I loved the way he talked about acting, too. He seemed to take it—but not himself—absolutely seriously. Not in an obnoxious way, but in the way people do when they recognize that it’s a discipline, and not just a fanciful game as it’s sometimes characterized. (In a way I don’t often hear Hollywood A-listers talk about it, in other words.) I loved the way he talked about most things, actually, though the content was often lost on me because I was so attuned to the sound of his voice. There was a period where I went to sleep every night listening to him narrate an audiobook of Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native. I still have no idea what the fuck it’s about because his voice was such an effective tranquilizer that I never made it past the first chapter. If there’s any silver lining in this total write-off of a garbage week, it’s the airtight excuse I now have to revisit it, and everything else.
I’m sad for his family and friends and fans. But mostly, selfishly, I’m sad that there will be no new work to look forward to. I don’t know how many hours I logged combing file-sharing websites in search of a fabled bootleg of his 1987 Les Liaisons Dangereuses, but I never found it. Like a Bigfoot hunter, I hold out hope that it’s out there somewhere, still waiting to be discovered.