Richard St. John Harris, actor, singer, songwriter, producer, director, and writer, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on October 1, 1930. He is brought up in a middle class and staunchly Roman Catholic family.
Harris is schooled by the Jesuits at Crescent College. He is a talented rugby player, however his athletic career is cut short when he comes down with tuberculosis in his teens. After recovering from tuberculosis, Harris moves to Britain, wanting to become a director. Unable to find any suitable training courses, he enrolls in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) to learn acting.
Harris makes his film debut in 1958 in the film Alive and Kicking, and plays the lead role in The Ginger Man in the West End in 1959. Harris’ first starring role is in the film This Sporting Life (1963), as a bitter young coal miner, Frank Machin, who becomes an acclaimed rugby league football player. For his role, Harris wins Best Actor in 1963 at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination. He also wins notice for his role in Sam Peckinpah‘s Major Dundee (1965), as an Irish immigrant who becomes a Confederate cavalryman during the American Civil War.
Harris performs the role of King Arthur in the film adaptation of the musical play Camelot (1967). He continues to appear on stage in this role for many years, including a successful Broadway run in 1981–1982. In 1970 British exhibitors vote him the 9th most popular star at the UK box office.
Other film performances follow, among them a role as a reluctant police informant in the coal-mining tale The Molly Maguires (1970), also starring Sean Connery. Harris stars in Cromwell (1970), a film based on the life of Oliver Cromwell who leads the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War and, as Lord Protector, ruled Great Britain and Ireland in the 1650s.
Harris’ film career collapses after the late 1970s and in the next decade he is rarely seen on screen, although he continues to act on stage. During his career Harris appears in two films which win the Academy Award for Best Picture. First, as the gunfighter “English Bob” in the Western Unforgiven (1992); second, as the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator (2000).
Harris is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in August 2002, reportedly after being hospitalised with pneumonia. He dies at University College Hospital in Fitzrovia, London on October 25, 2002, at the age of 72. He was in a coma in his final three days. Harris’ body is cremated and his ashes are scattered in the Bahamas, where he had owned a home.