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Screen icon Robbie Coltrane dead at 72

Though internationally known as loveable Hogwarts caretaker Hagrid, Coltrane was also a celebrated comic performer and won multiple BAFTAs as the star of the British crime drama Cracker

By Jon Blistein

Robbie Coltrane in 2011. JONATHAN SHORT/AP PHOTO

Robbie Coltrane, the Scottish actor with a wide-ranging career who was arguably best known to international audiences for playing Hagrid in the Harry Potter franchise, has died. He was 72.

Coltrane’s death was confirmed by his agent. No cause of death was given. 

Coltrane’s career stretched several decades, and Hagrid was just one of many notable roles he had. Pre-Harry Potter, he was probably best known as Dr. Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald, the lead criminal psychologist on the popular British series, Cracker. He also worked with Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, and Stephen Fry on their early-Eighties sketch series, Alfresco, and later appeared in two James Bond flicks, 1995’s GoldenEye and 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe paid tribute to Coltrane in a statement shared with Rolling Stone: “Robbie was one of the funniest people I’ve met and used to keep us laughing constantly as kids on the set. I’ve especially fond memories of him keeping our spirits up on Prisoner of Azkaban, when we were all hiding from the torrential rain for hours in Hagrid’s hut and he was telling stories and cracking jokes to keep morale up. I feel incredibly lucky that I got to meet and work with him and very sad that he’s passed. He was an incredible actor and a lovely man.”

“I first met Robbie Coltrane almost exactly 40 years ago,” Fry wrote on Twitter. “I was awe/terror/love struck all at the same time. Such depth, power & talent: funny enough to cause helpless hiccups & honking as we made our first TV show, Alfresco. Farewell, old fellow. You’ll be so dreadfully missed.”

Coltrane was born Anthony Robert McMillan in Rutherglen, Scotland, a wealthy suburb outside Glasgow. He found acting and live performance in college and adopted the last name “Coltrane” as an homage to jazz great John Coltrane. He started securing small TV and film roles in the late Seventies, and by the mid-Eighties, he’d established himself as a reliable comic actor on sketch programs like Alfresco and A Kick Up the Eighties, as well as the long-running alt-comedy anthology series, The Comic Strip Presents.

Coltrane was soon able to start showcasing his dramatic range on other projects, too. He starred in the BAFTA-winning 1987 mini-series, Tutti Frutti, centered around an over-the-hill rock-and-roll band, and even did a bit of Shakespeare, appearing as Falstaff in Kenneth Brannagh’s 1989 adaptation of Henry V. And, of course, there was Cracker, in which Coltrane played a classic, hard-drinking anti-hero detective, who excels at his job while the rest of his life crumbles. Coltrane won three BAFTAs for Best Actor in a TV Series for playing Fitz on the series. 

Cracker’s success opened additional doors for Coltrane in Hollywood (“Steven Spielberg is a huge fan of Cracker,” he told The Telegraph in 2003), and following his two Bond flicks, he was cast as Hagrid in the first Harry Potter film in 2001. He reprised his role as the big-bearded Hogwarts caretaker in all eight franchise films, but it was far from his only work, securing credits in everything from Ocean’s Twelve to Pixar’s Brave

“I’ve been very lucky,” Coltrane said in that same Telegraph interview. “I’ve never been pigeonholed. I didn’t become an actor to play the same guy for 10 years. God, it would drive me mad; I would have to become a satanist at the weekend.”

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