Obituary – Michael Gambon – Veteran actor who played Dumbledore in ‘Harry Potter’
Sir Michael Gambon, whose extraordinary acting career took him from Laurence Olivier’s nascent National Theatre to screen roles in The Singing Detective and the Harry Potter films, has died at the age of 82.
A statement on behalf of his wife, Lady Gambon, and son, Fergus, issued by publicist Clair Dobbs, said: “We are devastated to announce the loss of Sir Michael Gambon. 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.”
- Died: September 27th 2023
- Details of death: died peacefully in hospital following a bout of pneumonia.
Michael John Gambon was born in the Cabra suburb of Dublin on 19 October 1940. His mother, Mary (née Hoare), was a seamstress, while his father, Edward Gambon, was an engineering operative during World War II. His father decided to seek work in the rebuilding of London, and moved the family to Mornington Crescent in London’s Camden borough when Gambon was six. His father arranged for him to be made a British citizen, a decision that would later allow him to receive a substantive (rather than honorary) knighthood. Brought up as a strict Catholic, he attended St Aloysius Boys’ School in Somers Town and served at the altar. He then matriculated to St Aloysius’ College in Highgate, whose former pupils include actor Peter Sellers. He later moved to North End, Kent, where he attended Crayford Secondary School but left with no qualifications at the age of 15. He then gained an apprenticeship as a toolmaker with Vickers-Armstrong. By the time he was 21, he was a qualified engineering technician. He kept the job for a further year, acquiring a lifelong passion for collecting antique guns, clocks, watches and classic cars.
1965–1988: Film debut and early roles
He made his film debut in Laurence Olivier’s Othello alongside Maggie Smith and Derek Jacobi in 1965. After his film debut, Gambon was asked by James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli to audition for the role in 1970, to replace George Lazenby. He continued acting in the British horror films Nothing But the Night (1973), and The Beast Must Die (1974). In 1985, he appeared in the British drama film Turtle Diary directed by John Irvin with a screenplay adapted by Harold Pinter. The film starred Glenda Jackson and Ben Kingsley.
1989–2003: Independent films
In 1989, Gambon starred in the Peter Greenaway film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, which also starred Helen Mirren. He later starred as Fyodor Dostoyevsky in the Hungarian director Károly Makk’s film The Gambler (1997) about the writing of Dostoyevsky’s novella The Gambler. In the 1990s he appeared in films such as, Barry Levinson’s fantasy comedy Toys (1992), the period drama Dancing at Lughnasa (1998), the action film Plunkett & Macleane (1998), Michael Mann’s political drama The Insider (1999), and Tim Burton’s gothic horror film Sleepy Hollow (1999).
During the 2000s, Gambon appeared in several films including Robert Altman’s murder mystery ensemble Gosford Park. In 2003, he appeared with Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner, playing the principal villain in the Western film Open Range.
2004–2011: Harry Potter and other roles
In 2004, he appeared in five films, including Wes Anderson’s cult comedy The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou; the British gangster film Layer Cake; and theatrical drama Being Julia.
In 2007, Gambon appeared in Michael Apted’s historical drama Amazing Grace alongside Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Benedict Cumberbatch, Albert Finney, Rufus Sewell. The film focuses on William Wilberforce, who led the campaign against the slave trade in the British Empire. The film is Certified Fresh according to Rotten Tomatoes with critics’ consensus describing the film as “your quintessential historical biopic: stately, noble, and with plenty of electrifying performances.” That same year, he played major roles in the acclaimed BBC five-part adaptation of Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford novels alongside Judi Dench and Imelda Staunton, and in Stephen Poliakoff’s Joe’s Palace.
His best-known role is perhaps that of Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts’ headmaster in the third instalment of J. K. Rowling’s franchise, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, taking over the role after the death of Richard Harris in 2002; Harris had also played Maigret on television four years before Gambon took that role. Gambon reprised the role of Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was released in November 2005 in the United Kingdom and the United States. He returned to the role again in the fifth film, 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. He appeared in the final two films of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 in 2010 and Part 2 in 2011. Gambon told an interviewer that, when playing Dumbledore, he does not “have to play anyone really. 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.”
In 2010, Gambon appeared in Tom Hooper’s historical drama The King’s Speech as King George V, alongside Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, and Guy Pearce. In 2011, the film received 12 Academy Awards nominations, more than any other film in that year. The film won four Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay.
2012–2019: British films and comedies
In 2012, he played a role in Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut with Quartet, based on the same-titled play by Ronald Harwood and starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins. The film premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival to favourable reviews. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported an 80% approval rating with the consensus reading, “It’s sweet, gentle, and predictable to a fault, but Dustin Hoffman’s affectionate direction and the talented cast’s amiable charm make Quartet too difficult to resist.”
In 2016, Gambon was the narrator for the Coen Brothers’ Hollywood comedy Hail, Caesar!, which satirised the 1950s Hollywood film industry and featured an ensemble cast including Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum. The film was well received by critics, earning an approval rating of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus being, “Packed with period detail and perfectly cast, Hail, Caesar! finds the Coen brothers delivering an agreeably lightweight love letter to post-war Hollywood.” The film also received an Academy Award nomination for its Production Design. Gambon then appeared in comedy film Dad’s Army playing the iconic Private Godfrey, based on Arnold Ridley, who had played the character in the original classic BBC series of the same name. Gambon also provided voice-overs as Uncle Pastuzo in the Paddington films (2014, 2018), starring Ben Whishaw, as the titular bear.
In 2019, he appeared in the biographical film Judy, about Judy Garland, starring Renée Zellweger, Rufus Sewell, Finn Wittrock and Jessie Buckley. That same year Gambon appeared in Adrian Shergold’s period thriller Cordelia, acting alongside Johnny Flynn and Catherine McCormack.
Personal Life & Death
Gambon married mathematician Anne Miller in 1962 when he was 22 years old. Known for being protective of his privacy, he once responded to an interviewer’s question about his wife by asking, “What wife?”. The couple lived in Gravesend, Kent. They had one son, Fergus, who later became a ceramics expert on the BBC series Antiques Roadshow.
Gambon brought Philippa Hart, a woman 25 years his junior, to the set while filming the 2001 film Gosford Park and introduced her to his co-stars as his girlfriend. When their affair was publicly revealed in 2002, he moved out of the home he shared with his wife. He was with Hart from 2000, when they worked together on Channel 4 series Longitude. In February 2007, it was revealed that Hart was pregnant with Gambon’s child and gave birth to a son. Hart gave birth to Gambon’s third child in 2009.
In the New Year Honours 1998, Gambon was appointed a Knight Bachelor for services to drama. On 17 July 1998, he was invested by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.
Gambon was a qualified private pilot. His love of cars led to his appearance on the BBC series Top Gear. He raced the Suzuki Liana so aggressively that it went around the last corner of his lap on two wheels. The final corner of the Top Gear test track has been named “Gambon Corner” or simply “Gambon” in his honour. He appeared on the programme again on 4 June 2006 and set a time in the Chevrolet Lacetti of 1:50.3, a significant improvement on his previous time of 1:55. He clipped his namesake corner the second time, and when asked why by Jeremy Clarkson, replied, “I don’t know, I just don’t like it.”
Gambon died in Witham on 27 September 2023, aged 82, from pneumonia.
Date of birth: 19th October 1940
Date of Death: 27th September 2023 (aged 82)
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Gambon