HELL-raiser, bon vivant, ardent Munster fan, naturally gifted actor - all of the above and then some could be used to describe Richard St John Francis Harris, the 10th anniversary of whose passing will be marked with a celebration of the Limerick man’s life this Thursday.
Harris passed away aged 72 in London on October 25, 2002, a matter of weeks before the premiere of his second turn as Albus Dumbeldore in the Harry Potter series, a role he was certain would overshadow his glittering career.
This Thursday the Little Apple and Bottom Dog Theatre Company are to host a celebration of a “man was loved by people from all walks of life”.
“Creatives in Limerick loved his acting, songs and poetry,” explained local actor and musician Mark O’Connor, one of the organisers. “We will gather the poetic champions to put on a night worthy of the man. We will present readings of some of his most famous performances, seen through the eyes of the cream of Limerick’s current Thespian crop,” he added.
The event takes place in the Loft venue, above the Locke Bar, at 10pm, part of the ongoing Limerick Unfringed Festival 2012.
Harris, who was born in the city to Ivan Harris and Mildred Harty, was educated in Crescent College and played rugby at school, holding an ardent love for Munster for most of his life, attending many matches.
His rugby career was curtailed by a bout of tuberculosis however, propelling him toward a life on stage and screen, and he went to London seeking to become a director in the late 1950s.
Harris secured well reviewed parts in The Guns of Navarone, Mutiny on the Bounty - clashing repeatedly with Marlon Brando on set - but it was his stunning turn in the 1963 film This Sporting Life that propelled his career to greater heights and for which he won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award. A star turn in Camelot in 1967 remains one of his iconic roles.
He was nominated again for an Oscar for his turn in The Field in 1990, forming a deep bond with Russell Crowe with his stunning turn as Ridley Scott’s Gladiator in 2000 - with Crowe visiting Limerick and Kilkee in 2006 to unveil a statue in his honour, accompanied by Harris’ three sons Jared, Jamie and Damian - the former now a star in own making with a recurring role in Mad Men and massive movies such as Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Despite earlier protestations about his disdain for film making, Harris said toward the end of his life: “I feel most alive when I’m working on a film.”
Parnell Street pub Charlie St George’s created a cocktail in his honour in 2010, following the inaugural Richard Harris celebration in 2009. One wall of the pub is dedicated to memorabilia detailing his life.
He once said: “I formed a new group called alcoholics unanimous – if you don’t feel like a drink, you ring another member and he comes over to persuade you”.
Proud and passionate about Limerick and his second home in Kilkee, where he was an outstanding racquets player – winning the Tivoli Cup a record four times in a row from 1948 to 1951, which was never surpassed. He keenly took part in demonstations in Limerick calling for a university in the mid-60s, as recently uncovered by the Limerick’s Leader archival supplement on those turbulent times.
Harris once said, after a run-in with Frank McCourt in New York: “I have never yet been confronted by a Limerickman who ran way from a fight. We don’t do that in Limerick, we stand our ground and we fight. To run from a fight is not part of the Limerick character at all.”
A memorial mass was held in his honour a month after he passed away at the Church of the Sacred Heart, the Crescent, attended by his family, featuring a poem written by Harris as a 12 year old entitled I Write As Told.