Obituary – Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane – Cracker and Harry Potter Star
Robbie Coltrane, who played the lovable half-giant Rubeus Hagrid in the “Harry Potter” franchise, has died, his agency WME confirmed to Variety on Friday. He was 72.
Coltrane featured in every “Harry Potter” movie, from “Sorcerer’s Stone” in 2001 to “Death Hallows -Part 2” in 2011, and was much beloved for bringing the character from J.K. Rowling’s book series to life. He was among one of the first characters to appear on screen, and he recited the famous line, “Yer a wizard, Harry,” to a young Daniel Radcliffe as he embarked on his journey into the wizarding world. A towering figure but a softie at heart, Hagrid had a sweet spot for ferocious beasts and cared for some of the “Harry Potter” world’s most ferocious, and iconic, creatures. Radcliffe paid tribute to his time spent with Coltrane on the “Potter” set. “I’ve especially fond memories of him keeping our spirits up on ‘Prisoner of Azkaban,’” Radcliffe said. “When we were all hiding from the torrential rain for hours in Hagrid’s hut and he was telling stories and cracking jokes to keep morale up.”
- Died: October 14th, 2022
- Details of death: Died due to multiple organ failure.
Born Anthony McMillan in Rutherglen, near Glasgow, he changed his name, on becoming an actor, in honour of the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. His mother, Jean Ross, was a pianist and teacher, and his father, Ian, a GP who also worked as a police surgeon. His son recalled that Dr McMillan “used to spend all weekend stitching up knife victims”. Their son attended Glenalmond college, an independent school in Perthshire, often described as Scotland’s equivalent to Eton. “It was a very strict school and I didn’t respond well to discipline.” Indeed, he was nearly expelled for hanging prefects’ gowns from the school clocktower, but also played for the school’s rugby team, captained the debating team and won prizes for his art.
At Glasgow School of Art (1968-72), where the poet Liz Lochhead was a contemporary, he was nicknamed Lord Fauntleroy for the posh accent he quickly repressed. He soon became known as Red Robbie for his involvement with radical causes. In 1971, he supported the campaign by workers to keep the Glasgow shipyards open. “I believe I showed a pornographic movie and charged people five shillings to look at it and gave the money to Upper Clyde shipbuilders.”
To his lasting regret, he never became a painter. In 2014, when invited back to art school to open the Reid Building, Coltrane said: “I wanted to paint like the painters who really moved me, who made me want to weep about humanity. Titian, Rembrandt. But I looked at my diploma show and felt a terrible disappointment when I realised all the things that were in my head were not on the canvas. I felt there was something wrong with my hands. That was a heartbreaking day.”
At art school he had started acting. Lochhead saw him in Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter and recalled his performance as “fantastic … bloody terrifying”. His memory was different: “I threw up every night before going on stage.” He went on to study art for another year, at the Moray House College of Education, Edinburgh, and acting became his vocation: “One day, [the renowned Scottish actors] Bill Paterson and Alex Norton came to me and said ‘Are you just going to carry on showing off in pubs, or are you going to take this seriously?’ and they sent me to the Traverse theatre”. His first success was in John Byrne’s trilogy The Slab Boys (1979), about a group of young working-class Scots in the 1960s.
Coltrane came to British TV viewers’ attention in a string of 1980s sketch shows, including A Kick Up the 80s and Laugh? I Nearly Paid My Licence Fee, working alongside Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Ben Elton, Stephen Fry and Rik Mayall. He went on to become a fixture of TV comedy, starring in Blackadder and several films in the Comic Strip Presents series.
His time as Hagrid
In 2001, Coltrane’s celebrity status went global when he was cast as Hagrid, the half-giant gamekeeper of Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry in the first film adaptation of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, reportedly at Rowling’s insistence. The 6ft 1in actor had to adjust to the novelty of being looked up to by adoring small fans. “Kids come up to you and they go: ‘Would you like to sign my book?’ with those big doe eyes. And it’s a serious responsibility.” In 2006 he was appointed OBE.
Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe paid tribute to Coltrane in a statement, saying: “Robbie was one of the funniest people I’ve met and used to keep us laughing constantly as kids on that set.
“I’ve especially fond memories of him keeping our spirits up on Prisoner of Azkaban, when we were all hiding from the torrential rain for hours in Hagrid’s hut and he was telling stories and cracking jokes to keep morale up.
“I feel incredibly lucky that I got to meet and work with him and very sad that he’s passed. He was an incredible actor and a lovely man.”
Fellow Harry Potter star Emma Watson said: “Robbie, if I ever get to be so kind as you were to me on a film set I promise I’ll do it in your name and memory.”
She paid tribute to Coltrane on Instagram saying there was “no better Hagrid” and he “made it a joy to be Hermione”.
“I’ll really miss your sweetness, your nicknames, your warmth, your laughs and your hugs.”
Writing on Twitter, Harry Potter author JK Rowling described Coltrane as an “incredible talent” and “a complete one-off”.
He is survived by his son, Spencer, daughter, Alice, and sister, Annie.
Date of birth: 30th March 1950
Date of Death: 14th October 2022 (aged 72)