Alan Rickman was born on a council estate in Acton, West London, to Margaret Doreen Rose (Bartlett), of English and Welsh descent, and Bernard Rickman, of Irish descent, who worked at a factory. Alan Rickman had an older brother (David), a younger brother (Michael), and a younger sister (Sheila). When Alan was 8 years old, his father died. He attended Latymer Upper School on a scholarship. He studied Graphic Design at Chelsea College of Art and Design, where he met Rima Horton, who would later become his life partner.
After three years at Chelsea College, Rickman did graduate studies at the Royal College of Art. He opened a successful graphic design business, Graphiti, with friends and ran it for several years before his love of theatre led him to seek an audition with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). At the relatively late age of 26, Rickman received a scholarship to RADA, which started a professional acting career that has lasted nearly 40 years, a career which has spanned stage, screen and television, and overlapped into directing, as well. He first came to the attention of American audiences as "Vicomte de Valmont" in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" on Broadway in 1987 (he was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in the role). Denied the role in the film version of the show, Rickman instead made his first film appearance opposite Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1988) as the villainous "Hans Gruber". His take on the urbane villain set the standard for screen villains for decades to come.
Although often cited as being a master of playing villains, Rickman actually played a wide variety of characters, such as the romantic cello-playing ghost "Jamie" in Anthony Minghella's Truly Madly Deeply (1990) and the noble "Colonel Brandon" of Sense and Sensibility (1995). He treated audiences to his comedic abilities in such films as Dogma (1999), Galaxy Quest (1999) and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005), and roles like "Dr. Alfred Blalock" in Something the Lord Made (2004), and as "Alex Hughes" in Snow Cake (2006), showcased his ability to play ordinary men in extraordinary situations. Rickman even conquered the daunting task of singing a part in a Stephen Sondheim musical as he took on the part of "Judge Turpin" in the movie adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). In 2001, Rickman introduced himself to a whole new, younger generation of fans by taking on the role of "Severus Snape" in the film versions of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001). He continued to play the role through the eighth and last movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011).
Alan Rickman died of pancreatic cancer on 14 January 2016. He was 69 years old.