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Alan Rickman, Harry Potter's infamous Snape, dies at 69

The legendary actor who won millions of fans worldwide as Professor Severus Snape has died of cancer.

Alan Rickman's portrayal of Professor Severus Snape won him acclaim.
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Alan Rickman, best known as the scowling Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, died of cancer Thursday at age 69.

The British actor, also known for his roles in "Galaxy Quest," "Die Hard" and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," was "surrounded by family and friends" in London when he died, according to the Guardian.

Rickman was the kind of actor who made playing villains look easy. His portrayal of scoundrels includes Hans Gruber in "Die Hard," the Sheriff of Nottingham in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," Elliott Marston in "Quigley Down Under," Judge Turpin in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," and the virtually un-killable Rasputin in the TV movie "Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny."

The accomplished actor also played romantic roles in such films as "Truly, Madly, Deeply," "Love Actually," "The Song of Lunch," "Sense and Sensibility" and "An Awfully Big Adventure."

But the standout role that made Rickman's face known to millions worldwide was his portrayal of Snape in all eight of the Harry Potter films, released between 2001 and 2011.

Rickman played the role with such sincere snark and stoic animosity that he was no mere villain. In fact, as the movies continued, Rickman peeled back layer after layer of Snape's complex personality.

"Three children have become adults since a phone call with Jo Rowling, containing one small clue, persuaded me that there was more to Snape than an unchanging costume, and that even though only three of the books were out at that time, she held the entire massive but delicate narrative in the surest of hands," Rickman said about Snape in a letter he wrote to Rowling in 2011.

Alan Rickman (center) as Dr. Lazarus stands with fellow "Galaxy Quest" cast members Tim Allen (left) and Sigourney Weaver.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Perhaps his most emotionally haunting line in the series came in the final film when Snape reveals to Professor Dumbledore that his patronus is a doe, just like that of Lily, Harry Potter's mother and the unrequited love of Snape's life.

"After all this time?" Dumbledore asks, stunned.

"Always," Snape replies.

Fans also loved Rickman as the frustrated sci-fi actor Sir Alexander Dane who played Dr. Lazarus of Tev'Meck in "Galaxy Quest." As a trained Shakespearean actor, Dane was annoyed at having to always wear uncomfortable prosthetic headgear and repeat his character's catchphrase: "By Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!"

Rickman's signature sarcastic tone was so famed from his roles that when he voiced the depressed robot Marvin the Paranoid Android in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," we couldn't imagine anyone else groaning, "Life? Don't talk to me about life!"

The actor's latest film, "Eye in the Sky," is a British thriller directed by Gavin Hood about drone warfare and also stars Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Barkhad Abdi. The film, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015, is due to hit theaters in a limited release in March.

Beyond movies and TV roles, Rickman was an accomplished stage actor with roles going back to the 1970s.

"Actors are agents of change," Rickman told IFC in 2008. "A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world."