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Home > Popped Clogs

Popped Clog: Richard Harris

Richard Harris - actor, director, singer, poet, theatre impresario, bankrupt, alcoholic - has died. He was 72.

26 October 2002

Richard Harris will be best remembered for his partnership with Orville The Duck - but there was much more to his lengthy career than end-of-the-pier shows and novelty chart hits.

Born in Dublin in 1930, Harris made his first film, 'Alive and Kicking' - starring Stanley Holloway - in 1958. Despite providing the inspiration for BBC children's magazine programme, 'Live and Kicking', E! Online's (http://www.eonline.com) review of the film...

'When three elderly ladies are threatened with separation,
they escape from their nursing home into madcap

...leaves much to the imagination. We are given no clues as to the nature of the ladies' madcap adventures - but with Mssrs Harris and Holloway involved, one can only assume that alcohol and informal sexual congress played no small part in them. In fact, Dame Sybil Thorndike's reluctance to discuss her and Harris' off-screen relationship says more about Harris' drinking and womanising than the truth ever could. She played the part of 'Dora' while he was credited simply
as 'Lover'.

The 1960s saw Harris complete his trek to the summit of Mount Fame when he was offered the role of Squadron Leader Howard Barnsby in the 1961 blockbuster, The Guns of Navarone. The film was critically acclaimed* and brought Harris to the attention of director Lewis Milestone who was in the process of casting Mutiny on the Bounty - the film which gave Harris his first starring role - and his first link to Kevin Bacon (Mutiny on the Bounty also starred Marlon Brando, who was in The Missouri Breaks with Jack Nicholson, who co-starred with Kevin Bacon in A Few Good Men.). With his degrees of Bacon (who was just four years old at the time) firmly established, an Oscar nomination was inevitable.

The inevitable became history in 1963 when Harris picked up both an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe for his performance as Frank Machin in This Sporting Life - a performance which allowed Harris to combine his two big passions - rugby and appearing in films.

In 1968 - ten years before almost dying of a cocaine overdose - Harris turned his attentions to music, recording the epic single MacArthur Park before divorcing his first wife - and mother of his three children - Elizabeth Rees. The single reached number two in the American Billboard charts.

To the future delight of obituarists, Harris' film output during the 1970s and 1980s was overshadowed by his off- screen drinking. So infamous was his alcoholism that directors would add at least a week to production schedules to insure against his marathon boozing sessions.

Fortunately, as the films affected included the execrable 'Orca', movie-lovers were more than happy to wait - in fact rumours persist that it was movie-lovers who provided the twelve cases of whiskey that mysteriously arrived at Harris' dressing room each day. It is not known whether Harris was drunk when, in 1974, he married ex-Vogue cover model Ann Turkel but it is assumed that he was when he divorced her eight years later in 1982.

Following his second divorce Harris gave up alcohol and set about rebuilding his career but it wasn't until ten years later - in 1992 - that he had sobered up enough to make Unforgiven, one of his finest works. The film also starred Clint Eastwood as William Munny and James Herman as 'Train Person #2'.

In recent years Harris decided to leap back off the wagon - even going so far as to join Oliver Reed on the cast of Gladiator in an attempt to find a co-star who he could not drink under the table. Sadly Reed proved him wrong by promptly sliding under the table and into an early grave.

Harris' own grave was filled shortly after the completion of the second Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, in which he played Professor Albus Dumbledore. The film is described on the Internet Movie Database as 'rated PG for scary moments'.


* Except by imdb.com user 'bob the moo' who described the
film as 'not great' - which, frankly, is a bit rich coming
from someone who lives in Birmingham and calls himself 'bob
the moo'.

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