Close Encounters of the Literary Kind, Part VIII: Alan Rickman

The news of Alan Rickman’s death at the age of 69 has come just days after the news of David Bowie’s death at the same age. Both men died due to complications from cancer.


Okay, so Alan Rickman is not technically an author, but he does play a rather popular literary character in the Harry Potter films: Severus Snape. Rickman is also a classically trained actor who has done more than his share playing Shakespearean and other literary characters on stage.

In the summer of 1998 my brother, my best friend David Sacco, and I all traveled to London and Paris for a sort of get away before we all got too serious in our adult lives. Actually, the trip was filled with drinking, but it was World Cup time so we had an excuse. In any case, between pub-crawls in London we did manage to do one or two touristy things. One of those involved going on a Shakespeare & Dickens walk through parts of London. The basic gist of the tour was to visit either places the two authors spent time at or to travel along roads and to sites that appear in their work. Although I usually loathe these kinds of activities, I did enjoy the knowledge our guide brought to the walk. The group was also rather small, which made it much less touristy, at least to me.

During one part of the walk our group was making its way from one stop to another when my brother whispered in my ear: “Look who’s coming toward us. Do you recognize him?” I looked to find this incredibly tall, thin man with disheveled hair wearing a dark trench coat and carrying a folder stuffed with papers under his arm. I didn’t recognize him at first, but as I he got closer I saw that it was the actor Alan Rickman. This was in 1998, so Rickman was at this time most famous for playing the bad guy in the Bruce Willis blockbuster, Die Hard. Rickman passed us and we tried not to stare too long at him. I contemplated bumping into him on the narrow sidewalk, but thought better of it. The tour then arrived at its next stop and everyone circled around the guide as he began to explain the significance of where we were. Of course, I don’t recall what it was now, but I do remember that Rickman slowed and turned. He stopped on the sidewalk and was also listening to the guide. When we began to move on, all three of us, who seemed to be the only ones who recognized Rickman, noticed that he followed us and subtly fell in with our group. For the next twenty-minutes or so (it may have been shorter than that, but memory is a trickster) Rickman joined us on our touristy walk. No one said a word to him, and the three of us kept our cool and tried to assume that detached, couldn’t care less attitude. After a while Rickman disappeared into the heavy traffic of the London streets and we never saw him again.

Of course, all of this was long before Rickman got the job of a lifetime playing Snape in the Harry Potter films. But I do remember his taking part in our tour as a topic of conversation over many lagers for the next several hours. Shakespeare was indeed right: all the world’s a stage.


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