The Irish-English actor, who played Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore across six of the eight Potter movies, died on Thursday (28 September) aged 82, his wife and son announced.
“We are devastated to announce the loss of Sir Michael Gambon,” they said, via the actor’s publicist.
“Beloved husband and father, Michael died peacefully in hospital with his wife, Anne, and son, Fergus, at his bedside, following a bout of pneumonia. Michael was 82. We ask that you respect our privacy at this painful time and thank you for your messages of support and love.”
Gambon began his most recognisable role as Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third film in the series, following the death of the role’s original star Richard Harris in 2002.
Writing on Twitter/X on Thursday, Rowling recalled the first time she saw Gambon, which was in a play years before she had conceived of the wizarding world in which the actor would play such a huge role.
“I’ve just heard the awful news about Michael Gambon. The first time I ever laid eyes on him was in King Lear, in 1982, and if you’d told me then that brilliant actor would appear in anything I’d written, I’d have thought you were insane,” she wrote.
“Michael was a wonderful man in additional to being an outstanding actor, and I absolutely loved working with him, not only on Potter but also The Casual Vacancy. My deepest condolences go to Michael’s family and everyone who loved him.”
I've just heard the awful news about Michael Gambon. The first time I ever laid eyes on him was in King Lear, in 1982, and if you'd told me then that brilliant actor would appear in anything I'd written, I'd have thought you were insane. Michael was a wonderful man in additional…
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 28, 2023
Responding to a comment about his performance in the King Lear, Rowling added: “It was EXTRAORDINARY! Went with my A-level class. It was the first time I’d ever seen Shakespeare performed, and talk about setting the bar almost unreachably high…”
Rowling’s Harry Potter star Radcliffe, who does not have a public social media account, shared a statement with Variety in response to the news.
“With the loss of Michael Gambon the world just became considerably less fun,” he wrote. “Michael Gambon was one of the most brilliant, effortless actors I’ve ever had the privilege of working with, but despite his immense talent, the thing I will remember most about him is how much fun he had doing his job.
“He was silly, irreverent and hilarious. He loved his job, but never seemed defined by it. He was an incredible story and joke teller and his habit of blurring the lines of fact and fiction when talking to journalists meant that he was also one of the most entertaining people with whom you could ever wish to do a press junket.”
He continued: “The sixth film was where I got to spend the most time working with Michael and he made the hours spent in front of a green screen together more memorable and joyous than they had any right to be.
“I’m so sad to hear he has passed, but I am so grateful for the fact that I am one of the lucky people who got to work with him.”
Rupert Grint was the first of the films’ lead actors to pay tribute to Gambon. Grint played Ron Weasley, one-third of the story’s central triumvirate in addition to Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Harry Potter (Radcliffe).
“So sad to hear about Michael,” Grint wrote on Instagram. “He brought so much warmth and mischief to every day on set. He captivated me as a kid and became a personal role model of mine for finding the fun and eccentricities in life. Sending all my love to his family, Rupert.”
Bonnie Wright, who played Ron’s sister, Ginnie, in the films, shared: “I was forever in awe of Michael’s presence and performance. His deep mischievous voice between scenes would vibrate through the Great Hall. He was Dumbledore through and through a constant, warm and guiding figure.”
Fiona Shaw, who played Petunia Dursley in the film franchise, told BBC Radio 4 that she regarded him as a “magnificent trickster”.
She said of working with him on the Harry Potter films: “He took over from Richard Harris and of course, he began to mimic Richard Harris, who had recently died, and he would do his accent, the slight Irish accent.
“Which of course he always loved having an excuse to do because his family had come from Ireland, and gone to live in Camden. He just loved the precariousness of reality and unreality and, of course, that made him a very great actor.”
James Phelps, who played Fred Weasley, described Gambon as a “legend” and recalled an occasion when the veteran actor helped him read lines for another project during his downtime.
Very sorry to hear about the passing of Michael Gambon. He was, on and off the camera, a legend. Just a little memory of Michael pic.twitter.com/4M6E6inWMy
— James Phelps (@James_Phelps) September 28, 2023
A whole host of actors from outside the franchise, who either worked with Gambon or admired his talent, have also paid tribute to the late star.
Dame Helen Mirren recalled working with Gambon on 1982’s Antony And Cleopatra, calling him an “extraordinary actor”.
She told BBC News she would smile when she thinks of him: “Because he was incredibly funny. He had this natural Irish sense of humour, naughty but very, very funny. He was enormously self-deprecating, and at the same time an instinctive actor and a wonderful person to be around just in general.
“He kept me constantly in laughter, we had some very funny moments playing Antony and Cleopatra together.”
Julia Roberts also described working with Gambon on the 1996 film Mary Reilly as an “honour”, writing on Instagram: “He was always smiling, always kind. RIP Sir Michael Gambon. #legend.”
Former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson also shared his condolences, recalling how a corner of their track was named after him due to his memorable fast lap.
Gambon is survived by his wife Anne and son Fergus.