Sir Michael Gambon, whose extraordinary acting career spanned from the National Theatre with Laurence Olivier to screen roles in “The Singing Detective” and “Harry Potter” films, has passed away at the age of 82.
In a statement released by his publicist Claire Dobbs, his wife Lady Gambon and son Fergus said, “We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Sir Michael Gambon. Beloved husband and father, Michael, peacefully passed away in hospital with his wife Anne and son Fergus by his bedside, following a battle with pneumonia.
Michael was 82 years old. We kindly ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time and thank you for your messages of support and love.”
Ralph Richardson once famously dubbed him “The Great Gambon,” and he earned acclaim from successive generations of fellow actors for his performances in plays by Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, and Alan Ayckbourn.
Ayckbourn remarked on Thursday, “I owe Michael a great deal. He was a remarkable stage actor. To see him working with his props was a privilege for me. You couldn’t really call it acting – it was effortless combustion.”
It was also Eyre who directed him in Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” in 1987, the production that earned Gambon the Olivier Award for his portrayal of the controversial Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone.
Gambon also acted in Eyre’s ambitious trilogy “The Norman Conquests” and received a Tony Award nomination in the mid-1990s for his appearance in David Hare’s “Skylight” as the restaurateur who reconnects with a former lover.
Gambon’s co-star in Harry Potter, Fiona Shaw, told BBC Radio 4 that he was a “wonderful, wonderful actor” who “changed remarkably during his career and never made a decision about what he was doing; he just kept playing.”
Dame Eileen Atkins told the BBC that “he just had to walk on stage, and he gave orders to the whole audience.”
In a statement released by The Guardian, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe called Gambon “one of the greatest, easiest actors I have ever worked with, and I will always be grateful to have worked with him, but also for his incredible kindness and generosity of spirit, which made every day a pleasure.”
“He was reckless, outrageous, and hilariously funny,” Radcliffe added. “He loved his job, but he never let it define him. He was an unbelievable storyteller and a very kind man, and for what he had done in his career, his ability and his talent, that is what I will remember most about him.”
Jason Isaacs, also from Harry Potter, said, “I learned from Michael on The Singing Detective what acting could be – complex, understated, and entirely human.” David Bedella recalled first seeing Gambon in “A View from the Bridge” at the National Theatre in the 1980s and declared it “the best stage performance I have ever seen.”
Actor Peter Egan described Gambon as “one of the funniest and greatest people on the planet.”
After achieving success in the art-house film world with “My Dinner with Andre,” “The Princess Bride,” “The Thief,” His Wife & Her Lover” (1989), Michael Gambon ventured into mainstream cinema, starring in prominent films such as “Sleepy Hollow,” “The Insider,” and “Gosford Park.”
Later, with a bushy beard and a dangling hat, he took on the iconic role of Professor Albus Dumbledore in several blockbuster “Harry Potter” films, a role he assumed after Richard Harris’s passing in 2002.
Gambon lent his rich voice to various films, including voicing Uncle Pastuzo in both “Paddington” movies and narrating Cohen Brothers’ “Hey, Seizer!” With a commanding presence and remarkable features, Gambon portrayed himself as a departmental store manager and described as a “big, interesting old bag” while Michael Eaborn once referred to him as “like a Lamborghini – an amazing, limitless machine.”
Adored by audiences, he maintained a powerful presence that could add weight even to the lightest material. Gambon guarded his privacy and shied away from interviews, stating in 2004, “I just keep moving forward and try to keep my mouth shut.”
Gambon left school at the age of 15, and unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not receive any formal training in drama school. Instead, he gained experience through amateur presentations of his passion.
He was born in Dublin in 1940; his father moved to London and became a reserve police officer during World War II. At the war’s end, Gambon was brought to England by his mother to join her. Later, they relocated to Kent, where he began engineering training at Vickers-Armstrong’s factory at the age of 16.
He started working in theater as a set builder, eventually transitioning to stage work in various capacities at Unity Theatre and Tower Theatre in London. He initially secured his place in his first professional roles by lying about his experience and made his debut in Dublin with a small role in “Othello.”
At 22, he made his stage debut as a student in “The Bed-Sitting Room” in the West End. He also took a course in acting run by George Devine and William Gaskill at the Royal Court Theatre.
Gambon once revealed that he had never seen a film before acting in a Shakespeare presentation. His minor roles in Shakespeare at the National Theatre led to auditions for significant parts, including Richard III – a role recently played by Laurence Olivier – in front of Olivier. He also appeared alongside Olivier in “Othello” at the National and in Peter O’Toole’s “Hamlet.”
Later, on Olivier’s advice, Gambon left the National to join the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where he played the title role in “Macbeth.” He described himself as “a thoroughbred bit-part actor.”
In the early 1980s, he was performing in the Royal Shakespeare Company in productions like “King Lear” and “Antony and Cleopatra,” sometimes on the same day, at breakneck speed.
In 2005, Sir Nicholas Hytner directed Gambon as Falstaff in “Henry IV, Part 1” and “Henry IV, Part 2” at the National Theatre.
Hytner said on Thursday, “Michael Gambon was one of the greatest of actors’ generations, which included Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson. His extraordinary gift was to combine Olivier’s paschal power with Richardson’s humility. He could make you laugh in the next moment, and the next, receive a kind of ballistic compassion that would silence his breath.”