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Richard Saint John Harris (1 October 1930 – 25 October 2002) was an Irish actor, singer-songwriter, theatrical producer, film director and writer. He appeared on stage and in many films, and is perhaps best known for his roles as King Arthur in Camelot (1967), as Oliver Cromwell in Cromwell (1970) and for his portrayal of Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorccer's Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), his last film. He also played a British aristocrat and prisoner in A Man Called Horse (1970), a gunfighter in the Clint Eastwood directed western Unforgiven (1992), and emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator (2000). As a singer, Harris is best remembered for his recording of Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park", which reached the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic in 1968.

Early life and career

Harris, the fifth of eight children, was born in Limerickmarker, Ireland, the son of Ivan John (b. 1896, son of Richard Harris b.1854, son of James Harris, St. Michael's, Limerick) and Mildred Josephine Harris(née Harty) (b. 1898, Daughter of James Harty, St. John's, Limerick who owned a flour mill.) He was schooled by the Jesuits at Crescent Collegemarker. A talented rugby player, he was on several Munster Junior and Senior Cup teams for Crescent, and played for Garryowen. He might have become a provincial or international-standard rugby player, but his athletic career was cut short when he contracted tuberculosis in his teens. He remained an ardent fan of Munster Rugby until his death, attending many matches, and there are numerous stories of japes at rugby matches with fellow actors and rugby fans Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton.

After recovering from the disease he moved to England, wanting to become a director. He could not find any suitable courses and enrolled in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Artmarker (LAMDA) to learn acting. While still a student, Harris rented the tiny "off-West Endmarker" Irving Theatre, and directed his own production of the Clifford Odets play Winter Journey (The Country Girl). The show was a critical success, but a financial failure, and Harris lost all his savings on the venture.

As a result, he ended up temporarily homeless, sleeping in a coal cellar for six weeks. Though accounts from contemporaries from his hometown of Limerick claim these stories were somewhat garnished and he actually stayed with a few aunts sleeping on their living room sofa. After completing his studies at the Academy, Harris joined Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop. He began getting roles in West End theatremarker productions, starting with The Quare Fellow in 1956, a transfer from the Theatre Workshop.


Harris made his film debut in 1958 in the film Alive and Kicking. He had a memorable bit part in The Guns of Navarone as an Australian air force pilot who reports that blowing up the "bloody guns" of the title is impossible by air. For his role in Mutiny on the Bounty, despite being virtually unknown, he insisted on third billing, behind Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando.

His first star turn was in the 1963 film This Sporting Life, as a bitter young coal miner, Frank Machin, who becomes an acclaimed rugby league footballer. For his role, Harris won the 1963 award for best actor at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker. He followed this with a leading role in an Italian film, Antonioni's Il deserto rosso (1964), and also won acclaim and notice for his role (with Charlton Heston) in Sam Peckinpah's "lost masterpiece" Major Dundee (1965), as an Irish immigrant turned Confederate cavalryman during the American Civil War.

He appeared as King Arthur in the film adaptation of Camelot (in which he was cast despite his limited singing range, just like Richard Burton), and proceeded to appear on stage in that role for years. In 1966, Harris starred as Cain in John Huston's The Bible: In the Beginning.

He recorded several albums, one (A Tramp Shining) included the seven-minute hit song "MacArthur Park" (which Harris mispronounced as "MacArthur's Park"); that song written by Jimmy Webb, reached #2 on the United States Billboard magazine pop chart, while topping several charts in Europe, in the summer of 1968. A second all-Webb composed album, "The Yard Went on Forever", was released in 1969. He also wrote one of the songs, There are Too Many Saviours on My Cross, considered to be a criticism of the sectarian violence in Northern Irelandmarker.

Some memorable performances followed, among them a role as a reluctant police informer in the coal-miner tale The Molly Maguires (1970) alongside Sean Connery. He starred in Man in the Wilderness in 1971, Juggernaut in 1974 (a British suspense thriller about the hijacking of an ocean liner),in 1976 in Cassandra Crossing,opposite Sophia Lorenand Ava Gardner and in the low-budget film Orca in 1977 (about a killer whale).He achieved a form of cult status for his role as mercenary tactician Rafer Janders in The Wild Geese (1978).

In 1973, Harris wrote a highly acclaimed book of poetry, I, In The Membership Of My Days, which was later released in record format with him reciting his poems.

By the end of the 1980s, Harris had gone a long time without a significant film role. He was familiar with the stage plays of fellow Irishman John B. Keane, and had heard that one of them, The Field, was being adapted for film by director Jim Sheridan. Sheridan was working with actor Ray McAnally on the adaptation, intending to feature McAnally in the lead role (Bull McCabe). When McAnally died suddenly during initial preparations, Harris began a concerted campaign to be cast as McCabe. This campaign eventually succeeded, and the film version of The Field (which also starred Tom Berenger) was released in 1990. Harris earned an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal.

In 1992, he had a small but memorable role in Patriot Games as a member of Sinn Féin.

Later career

Harris appeared in two Oscar-winning films, first as gunman "English Bob" in the 1992 western, Unforgiven and portrayed Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000). Harris also played a lead role alongside James Earl Jones in the 1995 movie Cry, the Beloved Country.At the same time he played the role of Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films. Harris mentioned that he was originally not going to take the role, since he knew his own health was in decline, but accepted it because his then-10-year-old granddaughter threatened never to speak to him again if he did not take it. In a 2001 interview with the Toronto Star, Harris expressed his fear that his association with the Harry Potter films would outshine the rest of his career: "Because, you see, I don't just want to be remembered for being in those bloody films, and I'm afraid that's what going to happen to me."

In the 2002 re-make of The Count of Monte Cristo, Harris performed as the book's fictionalised character of Abbé Faria, the jailed priest and former Napoleonic soldier who instructs Dantès in language, science, and combat, and provides him a treasure map.

In 2003, his voice could be heard as the character Opaz in the animated film Kaena: The Prophecy. The movie was dedicated to him posthumously.

Personal life and death

In 1957, he married Elizabeth Rees-Williams, daughter of David Rees-Williams, 1st Baron Ogmore. Their three children are actor Jared Harris, actor Jamie Harris, and director Damian Harris (who has a son named Marlowe, born 2002, with Australian actress Peta Wilson). Harris and Rees-Willams were divorced in 1969, and Elizabeth married another actor, Sir Rex Harrison.

Harris' second marriage was to American actress Ann Turkel, who was 16 years his junior; that marriage also ended in divorce.

Despite his divorces, he was a member of the Knights of Malta, and was also knighted by Denmark in 1985. He was reportedly good friends with Peter O'Toole. His family reportedly hoped O'Toole would replace Harris as Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Harris often told stories about his haunted English Mansion, The Tower Housemarker, which was sold later to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame. According to Harris, the tower was haunted by an eight-year-old boy who had been buried in the tower. The boy often kept Harris awake at night until he one day built a nursery for the boy to play in, which calmed the disturbances to some extent.

Harris died of Hodgkin's disease on 25 October 2002, aged 72, two and a half weeks before the U.S. premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He was replaced as Dumbledore by fellow Irish-born actor Sir Michael Gambon.

He was a lifelong drinker, but then went teetotal. A memorable incident was an appearance on The Late Late Show where he recounted to host Gay Byrne how he had just polished off two bottles of fine wine in a restaurant and decided that he would then be going on the wagon: "And I looked at my watch and it was... Well isn´t that spooky! It was the same time it is now: 11:20!"

He is attributed with an anecdote in which he was found lying drunk in a street in London. A passing policeman asked him what he was doing, and he replied that the world was spinning. The policeman enquired how lying in the street was going to help, and he said "I'm waiting for my house to go by."

Whenever he was in London, Harris lived at the Savoy Hotelmarker. According to hotel archivist Susan Scott, when he was being taken from the hotel on a stretcher, shortly before his death, he warned diners, 'It was the food!'

Harris was cremated and his ashes were scattered in The Bahamasmarker, where he had a home.


Richard Harris was a Knight of Malta.


A statue in Kilkee, Republic of Ireland, of the young Richard Harris playing rackets

On 30 September 2006, Manuel Di Lucia, of Kilkeemarker, County Claremarker, a long-time friend, organised a bronze lifesize statue of Richard Harris at the age of eighteen playing rackets. The sculpture was unveiled in Kilkee. The sculptor was Seamus Connolly.

Another life size statue of Richard Harris, as King Arthur from his film, Camelot, has been erected in Bedford Row, in the centre of his home city of Limerick. Unfortunately the statue has been vandalised numerous times by limerick thugs and its sword damaged. The sculptor of this piece was the well known Irish artist, Jim Connolly, a graduate of the Limerick School of Art and Design.

At the 2009 BAFTAs, Mickey Rourke dedicated his best actor win to Harris, calling him a "good friend, and great actor."

Academy Award nominations

Grammy nominations and wins


  • Album of the Year for A Tramp Shining - 1968
  • Contemporary Pop Male Vocalist for MacArthur Park- 1968
  • Best Spoken Word, Documentary or Drama Recording for The Prophet - 1975





  • Camelot (Motion Picture Soundtrack) (1967)
  • A Tramp Shining (Spring 1968)
  • The Yard Went on Forever (Fall 1968)
  • My Boy (1971)
  • The Richard Harris Love Album (1972)
  • Slides (1972)
  • His Greatest Performances (1973)
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973)
  • The Prophet (1974)
  • I, in the Membership of My Days (1974)
  • Camelot (Original 1982 London Cast Soundtrack) (1982)


  • "Here in My Heart (Theme from This Sporting Life)" (1963)
  • "MacArthur Park" (1968)
  • "One of the Nicer Things" (1969)
  • "What a Lot of Flowers" (1969)
  • "Fill the World With Love" (1969)
  • "Ballad of A Man Called Horse" (1970)
  • "Morning of the Mourning for Another Kennedy" (1970)
  • "Go to the Mirror" (1971)
  • "My Boy" (1971)
  • "Turning Back the Pages" (1972)
  • "Half of Every Dream" (1972)
  • "Trilogy (Love, Marriage, Children)" (1974)
  • "The Last Castle (Theme from Echoes of a Summer)" (1976)
  • "Lilliput (Theme from Gulliver's Travels)" (1977)

Compact disc releases & compilations

  • Camelot (Original 1982 London Cast Soundtrack) (1988)
  • Mack the Knife (Motion Picture Soundtrack) (1989)
  • Camelot (Motion Picture Soundtrack) (1993)
  • A Tramp Shining (1993)
  • The Prophet (1995)
  • The Webb Sessions 1968-1969 (1996)
  • MacArthur Park (1997)
  • Slides/My Boy (2 CD Set) (2005)
  • My Boy (2006)

See also


  1. Limerick rugby full of heroes
  2. The Late Show With David Letterman interview, 2001
  3. On Richard Harris - The Leaky Cauldron
  4. Richard Harris and His Haunted Mansion

External links

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