Though he once declared, "I hate movies. They're a waste of time," Irish actor Richard Harris built a film career that lasted six decades and withstood a long fallow period in the 1970s and '80s. Often as famous for his offscreen exploits as his acting, Harris nevertheless was lauded for charismatic performances ranging from the tough, inarticulate rugby player in This Sporting Life (1963) to the wry bounty hunter in Unforgiven (1992) and the contemplative emperor in Gladiator (2000). After winning over a new generation of fans with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Harris passed away in 2002.
Born in Limerick, Ireland, Harris was the fifth of nine children. More interested in sports than art, Harris became a top rugby player in his teens. His sports career, however, ended after he came down with tuberculosis at age 19. Bed-ridden for two years, Harris read voraciously to pass the time. Calling his illness the "luckiest thing that ever happened to me," Harris was inspired by his volumes of Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, and Dylan Thomas to pursue a creative profession. Harris left Ireland to study in London, signing up for acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in 1956 after he failed to find good classes in directing; he also joined the more experimental Theatre Workshop. Harris made his professional stage debut in The Quare Fellow in 1956, earning praise from Method guru Lee Strasberg. Spending the next few years on the stage, Harris appeared in Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge and became a theater star with his turn as a drunken Dublin student in The Ginger Man (1959). Branching out to the screen, Harris appeared in the British TV movie The Iron Harp (1958), winning a contract with Associated British Pictures Corp. that lead to his feature debut in Alive and Kicking (1959). Playing Irishmen, Harris appeared alongside Hollywood heavyweights James Cagney in the IRA drama Shake Hands With the Devil (1959), Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston in The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), and Robert Mitchum in A Terrible Beauty (1960). After switching accents to play an Australian pilot in the World War II epic The Guns of Navarone (1961), Harris held his own as one of Marlon Brando's mutineers in The Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).