Michael Gambon, who played Professor Dumbledore in the “Harry Potter” films has died at 82. The death of the British legend was confirmed by his family in a concise statement released on Thursday via a public relations firm.
The statement conveyed that “Michael passed away peacefully in the hospital, with his wife Anne and son Fergus by his side, after suffering from pneumonia.” The turning point in Mr. Gambon’s career, which prompted actor Ralph Richardson to refer to him as “the great Gambon,” was his portrayal in Brecht’s “Life of Galileo” at London’s National Theater in 1980.
However, he had already achieved moderate success, particularly in plays by Alan Ayckbourn and Harold Pinter. Peter Hall, who was the National Theater’s artistic director at the time, characterized Mr. Gambon as “unsentimental, dangerous, and immensely powerful.” In his autobiography, he recounted how he had approached four prominent directors to cast Mr. Gambon in the lead role, only to be turned down because they deemed him “not famous enough.”
Following John Dexter’s agreement to direct him in what Mr. Gambon would later describe as the most challenging role he had ever undertaken, the amalgamation of volcanic energy and tenderness, sensuality and intelligence that he brought to the character, who aged from 40 to 75, not only impressed critics but also his fellow performers.
As recounted by Mr. Hall, the dressing-room windows at the National, which overlooked a courtyard, “contained actors in various states of undress leaning out and applauding him – a tribute that was truly unique.”
This performance earned him a nomination for Best Actor at the Olivier Awards and, in another outstanding role as Eddie Carbone in Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” at the National in 1987, the award itself. Once again, it was his combination of vulnerability and visceral force that captivated audiences, with Miller declaring that Mr. Gambon’s portrayal of the embattled longshoreman was the finest he had ever seen. Mr. Ayckbourn, who directed the production, described Mr. Gambon as awe-inspiring.
“One day he just stood in the rehearsal room and just burst into tears — no turning upstage, no hands in front of his face,” Mr. Ayckbourn said. “He just stood there and wept like a child. It was heartbreaking. And he did angry very well too. That could be scary.”
His television roles varied from Inspector Maigret to Edward VII, Oscar Wilde to Winston Churchill. And in film he played characters as different as Albert Spica, the coarse and violent gangster in Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover,” and the benign Professor Dumbledore in the “Harry Potter” films, a role he took over from Richard Harris, who died in 2002.
Michael Gambon was born on October 19, 1940, in the Cabra suburb of Dublin. His mother, Mary, worked as a seamstress, while his father, Edward Gambon, served as an engineering operative during World War II. In pursuit of employment opportunities in the post-war reconstruction of London, his father relocated the family to Mornington Crescent in London’s Camden borough when Gambon was six years old.
It was during this time that his father arranged for him to become a British citizen, a decision that would later enable him to receive a substantive knighthood rather than an honorary one. Raised in a devout Catholic household, Gambon attended St. Aloysius Boys’ School in Somers Town, where he actively participated in religious ceremonies. Subsequently, he enrolled at St Aloysius’ College in Highgate, an institution that counts actor Peter Sellers among its notable alumni.
Later on, he relocated to North End, Kent, where he attended Crayford Secondary School. However, he departed from his studies at the age of 15 without obtaining any qualifications.
Following his departure from formal education, Gambon secured an apprenticeship as a toolmaker with Vickers-Armstrong. Through dedication and hard work, he became a qualified engineering technician by the age of 21. He continued working in this field for an additional year, during which he developed a lifelong passion for collecting antique guns, clocks, watches, and classic cars.