The death of two titans: Bowie and Rickman



Alan Rickman as Professor Snape in Harry Potter
Alan Rickman as Professor Snape in Harry Potter

By Lorna O’Neill

THIS week has been one of shock and loss for those that adore music and film – with the death of two cultural titans – first David Bowie, then Alan Rickman.

Bowie’s death was announced on Monday.  He was 69 and had suffered cancer for 18 months in private.

Rickman, also 69, passed away yesterday, after also succumbing to cancer.

As news of the two men’s deaths – two of the truest individuals our age has seen – broke, it seemed quite unreal that Star Man and Snape could leave us.

Both men did so much for music and film – helped form pop culture as we know it today – and for them to die only days apart, it felt almost too great a loss in just one week.

Bowie’s family posted on the late singer’s Facebook page yesterday that they “welcome everyone’s celebration,” adding the humble words, “Thank you.”

David Bowie, one the true icons
David Bowie, one the true icons

Actress and friend Emma Thomson, speaking of Rickman’s death, said:  “He was the ultimate ally. In life, art and politics. I trusted him absolutely. He was, above all things, a rare and unique human being and we shall not see his like again.”

No matter how famous, how brightly someone’s star might be, there is no greater loss than death.  Saying goodbye does not come easy.

And though we didn’t know either man – their fans somehow feel connected to them – through music, through films, through the power of the spoken word, that touches the heart and makes us laugh, cry or simply, dance.

The bitter irony is that both men – giants in their fields – died at exactly the same age and of the same terrible illness.

Cancer has affected millions across the world.  It is a bitter and terrifying condition and it ravages everyone who comes in to contact with it, family, friends and of course the person suffering themselves.

But cancer and death also robbed us as a society, a culture embodied and nourished, enriched, by Bowie’s beautiful, empowering, funky melodies.

Dublin remembers Bowie with street art
Dublin remembers Bowie with street art

We were further bereft by the loss of that beautiful man, that talented actor, who was a master at playing the evil Englishman.

Both men had an impact on my life.  As a child, some of the first music I heard was Bowie’s.

Heroes, Fame, Let’s Dance, The Man Who Sold The World, are all songs that remind me of innocent summer days, lost in my youth.

While Rickman’s role as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter franchise, will always remind me of when my only daughter became obsessed with the bespectacled wizard.

Alan Rickman, died aged 69, yesterday
Alan Rickman, died aged 69, yesterday

She delighted in Rickman’s evil prowess – but within Snape there was a fragility, that seemed to also be present within Rickman.

For many, who felt shunned, or shunted towards the edges of society, due to their sexuality, in the ’70s, Bowie, was there hero.

He was the man who feared not telling the world he was bisexual.  He also had no fear to wear his individuality like a peacock flaunting its colours for all to see.

“I’m gay,” Bowie said in the January 22, 1972 issue of Melody Maker “and always have been even when I was David Jones.”

David Bowie, also died earlier this week, age 69
David Bowie, also died earlier this week, age 69

Then in 1976, the singer announced:  “It’s true – I am a bisexual.  But I can’t deny that I’ve used that fact very well.”

Rickman was also a man who stood up for his beliefs above all else.  It seemed that to this pair – meant to fade as stars together in one bitter week for the rest of us – their cause was much more important than their fame.

Perhaps fame was merely a catalyst for what they truly wanted to whisper to us.  For those who were listening to feel, hey, we have a voice.

Rickman remained politically active throughout his life.

He was born “a card-carrying member of the Labour party” and he was involved with charities, including Saving Faces and the International Performers’ Aid Trust, which helps artists in poor countries.

The actor, who also starred as Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis’s evil adversary in Die Hard, also spoke out about being unhappy at the “Hollywood ending” of 119’s Michael Collins.

Rickman, who starred as Éamon de Valera said that art should help educate as well as entertain.

Some critics said the film suggested that de Valera, somehow had a hand in Collins’ death.

“I suppose with hindsight, one should be more aware that there were going to be external pressures once you’ve finished the film in terms of how it is cut, and so scenes that we shot did not end up in the movie,” Rickman said.

“I think ultimately those would have altered the tone of the film.

“It was quite clear to me that de Valera was not involved (in the death of Collins).  It is not a question of personal bias.  He didn’t have enough power at the time to have given those orders.

“So it’s irresponsible if any kind of corporate entity says that he was (involved). Or it’s unfortunate, because he certainly wasn’t.”

They may be gone, but I’m sure like me, my daughter, along with so many kids and adults across this world, we aren’t going to forget their words.

As Bowie said:  I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human.  I felt very puny as a human.

I thought, F**k that.  I want to be a superhuman.


And Rickman:  Actors are agents of change.  A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference.  It can change the world.

We won’t forget you boys…sure didn’t you define us.




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