Biography of Richard Harris

Richard Harris was an actor, singer, theatrical producer, writer, poet & film director. His versatility was evident in his varied film roles whether he was playing a Roman Emperor, a wizard, a tenant-farmer or a mutineer. As Terry McMahon put it; “Since Harris tore the screen a new one in This Sporting Life, he has always been our Brando. Simple as that. To celebrate such a movie god makes brief heroes of the rest of us mere mortals.”

Early Life

Richard HarrisLimerick’s most famous and favorite actor was born Richard St. John Harris on the 1st of October, 1930. He was the fifth out of nine children born to Ivan John Harris and Mildred Josephine (Harty) HarrisDickie, as he is affectionately known in Limerick attended the Jesuit-run Crescent College on O’Connell Street in the heart of Limerick City.

Richard was a talented rugby player and was on several Munster Junior and Senior Cup teams for Crescent. He also played for Crescent junior team and played for Garryowen at senior level. His athletic career was cut short however when he caught tuberculosis as a teenager. He did however remain an ardent fan of the Munster Rugby and Young Munster teams then until his death on the 25th of October, 2002.

The Arts

While ill with TB he read voraciously while recuperating and found that he his interests shifted towards a new interest in the arts. He read Joyce, Beckett, D H Lawrence, Dylan Thomas and Yeats and began writing poetry.

He went on to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) before making his stage debut in 1956 made in The Quare Fellow. Dickie made his mark and soon became one of a new generation of young British actors in the London theatre scene that included actors such as Albert Finney among others.

Early Films

Richard Harris in This Sporting Life
Richard Harris in This Sporting Life
Richard began his film career playing a character without a name in Alive and Kicking (1958) and he played a supporting role in many major films through the early 1960s, most notably a memorable bit part in the The Guns of Navarone (1961) and a substantial role in the award winning 1962 classic, Mutiny On the Bounty, opposite Marlon Brando.

His breakthrough success and, perhaps, most impressive early performance came during his first lead role, as a character called Frank Machin in This Sporting Life (1963). Dickie netted an Academy Award nomination and won Best Actor in 1963 at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of a short tempered coal-miner turned rugby star.

Career in Music

A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris
A Tramp Shining
album cover
Following his memorable lead role as King Arthur in the 1967 musical film Camelot and the success of that film’s soundtrack album, Richard decided to embark into the world of popular music as a vocalist. He achieved instant success with his critically acclaimed 1968 album, A Tramp Shining, which was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and it featured the hit song “MacArthur Park”. The song was written by Jimmy Webb and recorded in Los Angeles along with some of the legendary “wrecking crew” studio musicians. Despite it’s epic length of nearly seven and a half minutes, “MacArthur Park” reached the Top 5 on the American pop charts as one of the biggest hits of that year.

Harris went on to record several more pop albums and singles through the 1970s and he continued to perform on multiple musical film soundtracks in the decades that followed.

A Long and Fruitful Career

Richard continued to make several films per year through the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and into the early 2000s. Some of the more notable roles he played were in A Man Called Horse in 1970 (which spawned two sequels in 1976 and 1983), Bloomfield in 1971 (also Richard’s directorial debut), Echoes of Summer (1976), Gulliver’s Travels (1977), Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid (1981), The Field (1989), Unforgiven (1992), Cry, the Beloved Country (1995), Gladiator (2000) and as the wizard Dumbledore in the initial two Harry Potter films (2001, 2002).

Richard Harris in Unforgiven
Richard Harris in Unforgiven
Over the course of his film career, Richard was twice nominated for an Academy award for Best Actor and he starred along some of the biggest names in American and British film, including Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Marlon Brando, Vanessa Redgrave, George C. Scott, Ava Gardner, Peter O’Toole, John Huston, Trevor Howard, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Brenda Fricker, Tom Berenger, John Hurt, Harrison Ford, Patrick Bergin, James Earls Jones, Sophia Loren, Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston, Michael Redgrave, Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, just to name but a few.

In more recent years he starred alongside some of the more contemporary talents such as Anne Archer, Russell Crowe, Morgan Freeman, Joaquin Pheonix, Oliver Reed, Sean Bean, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, John Cleese, Warwick Davis, Dame Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Julie Walters, Fiona Shaw and Robbie Coltrane. There are just too many to mention them all. He also worked with some wonderful directors, Chris Columbus, Ridley Scott, Clint Eastwood, Jim Sheridan, Ken Hughes, Martin Ritt, John Huston and Lindsey Anderson.

Richard Harris Career Accomplishments