​A tribute to Alan Rickman

In his best-known roles, Alan Rickman didn't say his lines so much as drop them in that double-bass voice, a syllable at a time, from on high ... with pauses between words that were weighty and reverberant, full of strange beats.

He was a great actor, and a musical one, icily precise but with a melancholy that washed over you.

Behind the facade, you sensed a vulnerable child.

Rickman died at 69, of cancer, just like Bowie: a bad week.

Fans remember most his Snape from the Harry Potter films -- disdainful, like many Rickman characters, but also a soul in torment.

I saw him first on Broadway in the '80s in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses." You wouldn't think of him now as a Machiavellian seducer, but as he prowled the stage, using charm like a rapier, he was mesmerizing.

That lead to "Die Hard" and supreme villain Hans Gruber -- the joke in how Rickman underplays, firing a bullet into an executive's head with a weary shrug.

Gruber led to Hollywood typecasting, but my favorite Rickman performance was in Anthony Minghella's goofy, ghostly love story, "Truly, Madly, Deeply." He plays a cellist whose sudden death leaves his lover, Juliet Stephenson, bereft. Her grief summons him back, in all his willfulness, with an underlying fear of loss.

I think that cello expresses the soul under the hard shell: plaintive, poetic, sublime.

As a postscript, here is Alan Rickman with Johnny Deep singing "Pretty Women" in Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

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