Michael Gambon: President Higgins leads tributes to ‘an exceptional talent. As an actor he seemed boundless’

Gate and Abbey theatres describe the Dublin-born actor as ‘legendary’ and ‘a giant of stage and screen’

Tributes have poured in for Dublin-born actor Michael Gambon, known for playing Albus Dumbledore in six of the eight Harry Potter films, who died on Thursday aged 82. The acclaimed actor, who was born in Cabra, Dublin, in 1940, died peacefully in hospital after a bout of pneumonia, his family said.

President Michael D Higgins described Gambon as “one of the finest actors of his generation”, in a statement on Thursday afternoon following the actor’s death, offering condolences to Gambon’s wife Anne, son Fergus and wider family, and to “his fellow artists and many friends”.

Gambon was recognised “as an exceptional talent very early in his career, on stage, film, television and radio”, President Higgins said. “More recently, a new generation of children and adults came to know him for his portrayal of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films,” the President said, adding that “his was a talent delivered over six decades”.

“As an actor he seemed boundless, be it through his work with Sir Laurence Oliver’s National Theatre in London, to his performances at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. His friendship with the late Peter O’Toole reflected a commitment to the importance of work on stage that they shared.


“His achievements as an actor in several of Samuel Beckett’s plays, including at the Gate in Dublin was part of a career that included performances in the work of so many of the major playwrights of his time, including Harold Pinter.

“Sir Michael Gambon leaves a great body of work that will remain as a compelling legacy, and a reminder to all who appreciated his work, of all that he accomplished,” President Higgins said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar posted a tribute on X, formerly Twitter, saying: “Rest In Peace. A great actor. Whether performing in Beckett, Dennis Potter or Harry Potter, he gave his all to every performance.”

Fiona Shaw, who starred as Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter films, told BBC’s World at One programme that Gambon “varied his career remarkably and never judged what he was doing, he just played.

“So I will think of him as a trickster, just a brilliant, magnificent trickster, but with text there was nothing like him, he could do anything,” she said.

Róisín McBrinn and Colm O’Callaghan, co-chief executives of the Gate Theatre – where Gambon made his theatrical debut – said it was “deeply saddened” to learn of the actor’s death.

“Always hugely popular with and loved by our audiences, he most recently appeared on the Gate stage in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land in 2008 and Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape in 2010,” the theatre said in a statement. “A giant of stage and screen. He leaves a vast and unforgettable legacy of exceptional work. The Gate’s board and staff send their deepest condolences to his friends and family.”

The Abbey Theatre said it was “heartbroken to hear of the loss of the incredible Irish actor”. It said Gambon became one of the most “inspiring and legendary actors of our time. Both his talent and that twinkle in his eye will be missed”.

Jared Harris, son of Richard Harris who played Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies before Gambon took over following Harris’s death, paid tribute to the “brilliant actor”, saying that he “lives unforgettably in my memory”.

“He took over Dumbledore from my father, which was fitting, as he overtook Brando as my father’s favourite actor,” Harris said.

The official Harry Potter account on X posted that they will “forever hold his memory” in their hearts, adding that Gambom brought “immeasurable joy to Harry Potter fans from all over the world with his humour, kindness and grace”.

Jason Isaacs, who played Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films also paid tribute to Gambon, saying that he learned what acting could be from Michael in The Singing Detective – “complex, vulnerable and utterly human”.

“The greatest thrill of being in the Potter films was that he knew my name and shared his fearless, filthy sense of fun with me,” Isaacs added.

James Phelps, known for playing Fred Weasley, brother of Ron Weasley in the Potter film series, described the actor as “on and off the camera, a legend”.

Ralph Fiennes, who played Voldemort, the arch enemy of Gambon’s character Dumbledore in Harry Potter, said he was “incredibly saddened” to hear of his former co-star’s death.

In a post on Instagram, Fiennes said that Gambon “brought immeasurable joy to Harry Potter fans from all over the world with his humour, kindness and grace. We will forever hold his memory in our hearts”.

Ellen O’Donoghue

Ellen O’Donoghue

Ellen O'Donoghue is an Irish Times journalist