Was a pretty good rugby player in his day, still remembered in Limerick City for his tackling ability.
He was a guest professor at the University of Scranton in the mid-1980s, teaching Theatre Arts courses.
Received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Scranton in 1987.
Joined the Knights of Malta (SMOM), despite his two divorces.
Was knighted by Denmark in 1985.
One of 9 children born to Limerick farmer Ivan Harris and his wife, the former Mildred Harty.
A bout with tuberculosis ended his ambition of becoming a professional rugby player.
Only agreed to take the part of Albus Dumbledor in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) after his then 11-year-old granddaughter threatened never to speak to him again if he didn't.
While still a student, he rented the tiny "off-West End" Irving Theatre in London and directed his own production of Clifford Odets' "Winter Journey (The Country Girl)". The critics approved, but the production used up all his savings and he was forced to sleep in a coal cellar for six weeks.
Died shortly before the U.S. premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002).
He was awarded the 1990 London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actor for his performance in Henry IV.
Was cremated and his ashes were scattered at his home in the Bahamas
Both he and his fellow Irish actor (and close friend) Peter O'Toole appeared in versions of "Gulliver's Travels": Harris played the title character in the 1977 film version Gulliver's Travels (1977) and O'Toole played the Emperor of Lilliput in the 1996 TV-film version Gulliver's Travels (1996), where Ted Danson played Gulliver.
Associate member of LAMDA.
Graduated from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). He was rejected by the Royal Adademy of Dramatic Art.
Member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in Stratford Upon Avon, England, since the early 1960s. His last appearance on the Swan stage (RSC main) was in the mid-1990s.
Received the Laurence Olivier Award for his acclaimed performances at the Royal National Theatre, London, England.
Once said in an interview that he had a great fascination with authority figures and their use of power. During his career he portrayed King Arthur in Camelot (1967); Oliver Cromwell in Cromwell (1970); King Richard the Lionheart in Robin and Marian (1976); Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator (2000) and Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002).
An alcoholic, he gave up drinking completely in 1981 and returned to drinking Guinness a decade later.
Was friends with Sir Sean Connery.
Is one of a few actors to appear in two Best Picture winners from the 1990s. He appeared in 1992's Best Picture, Unforgiven (1992), and 2000's Best Picture, Gladiator (2000). Others in the same category are Colin Firth, who appeared in The English Patient (1996) and Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Ralph Fiennes, who appeared in Schindler's List (1993) and The English Patient (1996). Fiennes later followed Harris into the Harry Potter films.
Well known for being a "method actor", Harris was once told that he would play the role of a filthy character, and so he went for a long time without bathing to fit in to the character better, much to the chagrin of his co-stars, who claimed that they could smell him coming a long way away.
He won the role of King Arthur in Camelot (1967), the film version of Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe's hit musical, after close friend and drinking buddy Richard Burton, who had played Arthur in the original 1960 Broadway production, turned down an offer to reprise the role in the film. Burton had had a huge success with Lerner & Lowe's show, winning a 1961 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Harris later replaced Burton in the roadshow of the 1980 revival of the musical when Burton was unable to continue due to bursitis, a tour that ended up back on Broadway, with Harris as Arthur, in 1981.
Harris did not enjoy his first time in Hollywood making The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959). Production had to be halted several times due to the frequent illnesses of its star, Gary Cooper. He turned down the role of Commodus in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) and was thirty-four when he starred in his first Hollywood movie, Major Dundee (1965).
He spent the last 12 years of his life living in Room 758 at the world-famous Savoy Hotel in London. His room was located in the "Courtside" section of the hotel. It did have a view of the river, but not as fine a view as the "Hotel" section riverside rooms. He only had his room cleaned once a week and very rarely notified the hotel that he was out of his room, so they had to check his door ten times a day to see if his "Do Not Disturb" sign flipped around to say "Make Up My Room".
After giving up drinking alcohol for a time in the 1970s, Harris put a bottle of vodka in every room in his house in London. The temptation was huge but he didn't touch a drop.
Producers were initially reluctant to cast Harris as King Arthur in Camelot (1967) due to his limited singing ability. Harris was cast after Richard Burton, who had played the part on Broadway in 1961, demanded too much money. The Irish actor insisted on doing his own singing live and later enjoyed a successful pop career, touring America in 1972.
He enjoyed a friendly rivalry with English actor Oliver Reed during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Reed would often refer to himself as "Mr. England." When Harris would hear him saying that, he would then refer to himself as "Mr. Ireland.".
In his youth he was a fan of Marlon Brando, and could imitate or parody his performance in On the Waterfront (1954) at the drop of a hat. However he did not get along with Brando while filming Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and blamed the American star's on-set behavior for the film going over budget and over schedule. During the 1960s he often criticized Brando's eccentric movie choices in interviews.
In 1979 he was diagnosed with hyperglycemia, a condition in which an excessive amount of glucose circulates in the blood plasma.
While living in England, Harris popped out for milk and when seeing the paper he noticed that Young Munster were playing in Thomond Park, Co. Limerick, Harris got the next available flight to Ireland. He spent the following 3 weeks on a drinking binge. All was unknown at the time to his wife, who had no idea where he was. When he finally returned to England, he rang the doorbell of his house. His wife answered the door and before she had a chance to say anything, he said, "Well, why didn't you pay the ransom?".
In an interview on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962), Harris told a story about when he was a young actor playing Seyton in a theatrical production of "Macbeth." The lead actor was a real jerk to him, making constant demeaning references to Harris's Irish heritage. On opening night, Harris couldn't take it anymore. In Act V, Macbeth turns to him and says, "Wherefore was that cry?" Harris was supposed to reply, "The queen, my lord, is dead," after which Macbeth goes into his famous soliloquy about "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow." However, Harris decided instead to say, "Oh, don't worry. She's fine. She'll be up and about in ten minutes." He ruined the performance and was promptly fired.
By the time he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in August 2002 it was so advanced that there was no hope of recovery.
Uncle of actress Annabelle Wallis.
Mickey Rourke dedicated his 2009 BAFTA award for Best Actor to Harris calling him "a good friend, and great actor.".
Despite his initial reluctance to accept the role of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films (he only agreed to do so at the urging of his granddaughter) he was determined not to let his battle with Hodgkin's disease get in the way of him playing the role. During post-production on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), producer David Heyman visited Harris in the hospital. By this point Harris's illness had progressed to the point where he had become very gaunt and could speak in barely more than a whisper, yet he begged the producer not to recast the role. Ultimately, however, the role had to be recast, as Harris passed away a few weeks later.
He was a vocal supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army from 1973 until 1983.
Became a born-again Catholic after his brother Dermot died from alcoholism in 1985.
The first Harry Potter film series cast member to die.
He nearly died from alcoholism in 1981, and a Roman Catholic priest was sent to given him the last rites.
As Harris was born in the Irish Free State he was entitled to a full knighthood. However it is likely he would never have been offered one due to his vocal support for the IRA in the 1970s and early 1980s.
He said he gave up drugs after almost overdosing on cocaine in 1978.