LONDON - Celebrated British-Irish actor Michael Gambon, best known for playing Albus Dumbledore in six of the eight "Harry Potter" films, has died in hospital aged 82, his family announced Thursday, prompting a flood of tributes.
Gambon won four television BAFTAs and Olivier awards during an acclaimed decades-spanning acting career across television, film, radio and theatre. It was capped by his beloved role as the headmaster of the wizarding school Hogwarts in the Potter series.
"We are devastated to announce the loss of Sir Michael Gambon," a statement issued on behalf of his family said.
"Beloved husband and father, Michael died peacefully in hospital with his wife Anne and son Fergus at his bedside, following a bout of pneumonia."
Once described by fellow acting legend the late Ralph Richardson as "The Great Gambon", he earned a reputation as one of British theatre's leading lights while enjoying sustained success on the small and big screen.
Born in Ireland, he began his acting career on stage, making his first appearance in a production of "Othello" at the Gates Theatre in the Irish capital Dublin in 1962.
Reacting to the news of his passing, the country's prime minister, Leo Varadkar, called him simply "a great actor".
"Whether performing in Beckett, Dennis Potter or Harry Potter, he gave his all to every performance," the Irish leader said on X, formerly Twitter.
- Memorable roles -
Gambon became a household name in Britain for his 1986 role as Philip Marlow in screenwriter Dennis Potter's "The Singing Detective" and in the 1990s played Georges Simenon's famous French police detective in the ITV series "Maigret".
By then, he was already an established theatre star, having appeared in Alan Ayckbourn's "The Norman Conquests" and "The Life Of Galileo", among other leading stage roles.
He was nominated for a Tony in 1997 for a part in dramatist David Hare's "Skylight".
He also won plaudits for Nicholas Hytner's National Theatre productions of "Henry IV". Gambon last appeared on stage in 2012 in a London production of Samuel Beckett's play "All That Fall".
Meanwhile, he put in a memorable screen performances in the BBC's 2015 adaptation of JK Rowling's "The Casual Vacancy", and period dramas such as "The King's Speech", portraying King George V, father of the stammering King George VI.
He earned Emmy award nominations for his role as Mr Woodhouse in the 2010 adaptation of Jane Austen's "Emma", and for playing President Lyndon B Johnson in "Path to War" in 2002.
But it was his performances as Dumbledore in the popular "Harry Potter" films that won him global acclaim, after replacing Richard Harris as the Hogwarts headmaster following the latter's death in 2002.
Gambon was knighted for his contribution to the entertainment industry in 1998.
- 'Magnificent trickster' -
Tributes poured in following the announcement of his death.
Fiona Shaw, who played Petunia Dursley in the Potter films, praised the variety of roles he undertook.
"He varied his career remarkably and never judged what he was doing, he just played," she told BBC Radio.
"With text, there was nothing like him. He could do anything," she added, describing Gambon as "just a brilliant, magnificent trickster".
Longstanding friend and actress Eileen Atkins lauded his ability to captivate stage audiences.
"He just had to walk on stage and he commanded the whole audience immediately," she also told BBC Radio.
And former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson recalled that Gambon had been such a "tremendous guest" he had a corner named after him on the BBC show's race track.
"He was hugely amusing," he said on social media.