Tragic Details About The Harry Potter Cast

Part of the reason why the "Harry Potter" mega-series — seven novels and eight movie adaptations — was such a blockbuster success was because of its humanity. Millions of readers and filmgoers were captivated by and could relate to the trials and tribulations of Harry Potter, the Weasleys, and the professors at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as they grew up or fought off the growing menace of the evil Lord Voldemort. While "Harry Potter" takes place in a world in which magic — spells, potions, transfiguration, and such — are very real and very useful, the story is really one about life, love, death, pain, hope, and tragedy.

Sadly and unfortunately, many members of the large cast of the Potter films could utilize their own real world experiences with the dark side of life to inform their film characters and performances. Here are some actors well known for their work in a "Harry Potter" movie who endured real and devastating tragedies.

Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe shot from semi-obscurity to almost instant worldwide fame in August 2000 (per CNN) when he was officially announced as the actor who would play Harry Potter in the Warner Bros. film adaptations of J.K. Rowling's mega-selling book series. Radcliffe was 11-years-old at the time and had very little acting experience, having filmed a part in the movie "The Tailor of Panama" and portraying the younger version of the title character in a BBC version of Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield."

Arguably acting out of resentment or jealousy, some of the kids with whom Radcliffe attended school were not as adoring as the millions of fans he'd gain over his first few Harry Potter films. "I wasn't the most popular kid because they wanted to give me a lot of c*** and I wasn't willing to take it," Radcliffe told Esquire (via The Mirror). The nastiness wasn't just of the verbal variety, either, as he once broke up a fight between one of his bullies and another kid. "So I pulled him off this other bloke and he punched me in the face."

Formal education was tough for Radcliffe academically, too, which partially inspired him to follow the actor's path. "I was having a hard time at school, in terms of being c*** at everything, with no discernible talent," he told The Daily Mail, adding that he chalked up his poor performance to dyspraxia, a neurological condition that can lead to learning disabilities and subpar coordination.

Daniel Radcliffe

For his work as Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe became extremely famous during his childhood and teenage years, a time when he was still trying to figure out his life and identity. As he aged into his elder teen years, Radcliffe started to drink heavily. "If I went out and if I got drunk, I'd suddenly be aware of there being interest in that," he told BBC Radio 4 (via The Independent). "It's 'Oh, Harry Potter's getting drunk in the bar.'" To cope with the heckling, Radcliffe said he would "drink more or get more drunk."

As the end of filming the epic saga of movies wound down, Radcliffe's alcohol consumption took on a different tone, turning into a coping mechanism. "A lot of drinking that happened towards the end of Potter and for a little bit after it finished, it was a panic, a little bit not knowing what to do next — not being comfortable enough in who I was to remain sober," Radcliffe told BBC Radio 4. In 2010, after several unsuccessful attempts, Radcliffe quit drinking.

Alan Rickman

Arguably the character most thoroughly embraced and adored by fans of the Harry Potter books and films was Severus Snape, professor of potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He instantly takes a dislike to Harry (and the Weasleys) and seemingly secretly aligns himself with Lord Voldemort's growing army of menacing supporters, but he's actually a covert spy, and ultimately a hero and a martyr, forever nursing a broken heart over his one true love, Harry's mother, Lily. Portraying Snape with layers of empathy, mystery, and seething resentment was Alan Rickman, an actor who specialized in playing charismatic villains (Hans Gruber in "Die Hard" and the Sheriff of Nottingham in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves") and cynical misfits (Alexander Dane in "Galaxy Quest" and Metatron in "Dogma"), as per The Wrap.

In January 2016, The Guardian reported that Rickman had died of cancer. That was also the first news of his illness — and the news came as a tragic shock to many. Rickman died in London, with his family and friends beside him, at age 69.

Maggie Smith

Few actors ever make it to the levels of fame and accolades of Maggie Smith. In the Harry Potter films, she played tenacious and brilliant Hogwarts professor and Gryffindor house leader Minerva McGonagall, a highlight in a career that stretches back to the 1950s that includes dozens of films and TV series, six Oscar nominations (including two wins), nine Emmy Award nominations (with three victories for her work as the Dowager Countess on "Downton Abbey"), 20 BAFTA nods, and Queen Elizabeth II naming her a Dame Commander of the British Empire, as per Biography.

In her personal life, Smith has endured multiple health crises. In November 1988, according to the New York Times, Smith suffered a bicycle accident during a vacation in the British Virgin Islands, fracturing bones in her arm and shoulder. Upon her return home to England, doctors determined that a previously diagnosed case of hyperthyroidism had progressed into Graves' disease, an immune disorder and extreme form of hyperthyroidism (per the Mayo Clinic). The condition led to disfigurement, such as eyeball protrusion, which lasted for a year (during which time Smith largely self-isolated) and required surgery and radiotherapy.

In 2009, Smith told The Times (via Australia's ABC News) that she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer two years earlier, after discovering a lump in her breast. "It leaves you flattened," Smith said of cancer, which was ultimately declared in remission.

Richard Harris

"Harry Potter" filmmakers needed an actor of high esteem to play Professor Albus Dumbledore, the wise and kindly headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, mentor figure to Harry Potter and his friends, and one of the most respected figures in the magical world. They landed Richard Harris, the Irish performer best known for such classic movies as "Camelot," "Mutiny on the Bounty," and "The Guns of Navarone" (via The Irish Times).

In August 2002, according to the BBC, Harris was hospitalized with pneumonia, sparking rumors that the 71-year-old actor would be too ill to continue playing Professor Dumbledore in the third Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Harris' agent told the BBC that their client was on the mend and would be discharged very soon. But just two months later, following a diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease, a type of cancer, Harris died, according to The Guardian. Just hours before his death, Harris called Chris Columbus, director of the two Harry Potter films in which he co-starred. "He threatened to kill me if I recast him," Columbus said. (Michael Gambon would take over the role for the remainder of the film series, as per Insider.)

Helena Bonham Carter

Helena Bonham Carter's role as the gleefully evil and casually murderous Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange in the latter "Harry Potter" movies is only one of the actor's many prominent roles since the 1980s. She also portrayed Princess Margaret on "The Crown," earned an Academy Award nomination for playing the queen mother in "The King's Speech," sang her way through "Les Miserables" and "Sweeney Todd," and was a core cast member in the cult classic "Fight Club."

Both sides of Bonham Carter's family tree are full of prominent and accomplished individuals. According to Express, her father Raymond Bonham Carter worked on behalf of the Bank of England for the International Monetary Fund, and her great grandfather was Herbert Henry Asquith, prime minister of the United Kingdom during World War I.

Bonham Carter's large and well connected family suffered a tragedy of tremendous scale in August 2008. According to the Evening Standard, seven members of the Bonham Carter extended family were riding in a van on a safari trip in Botswana. A tire blew out, the driver lost control, and the vehicle rolled over multiple times. Five of the seven Bonham Carter relatives were thrown from the van, and four died. 

Emma Thompson

Literally dozens of the most famous and awarded British actors of the last few decades appeared in at least one "Harry Potter" film. The United Kingdom film and TV world is a relatively small one, as not only had many "Harry Potter" performers appeared in projects together before, but there were also some romantic entanglements that didn't end on the most cordial of terms.

For example, concurrent with the "Potter" films, Emma Thompson (Professor Sybill Trelawney) starred in "Love Actually" opposite Alan Rickman (Professor Severus Snape), portraying a long-married couple whose relationship is dissolving over the man's infidelity. Thompson pulled from her real-life experience with a cheating, former husband: Kenneth Branagh, who appeared in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" as Gilderoy Lockhart. "I had my heart very badly broken by Ken," Thompson told The Telegraph. "I've had so much bloody practice at crying in a bedroom." Per Yahoo!, Thompson filed for divorce in 1995, after discovering Branagh had been carrying on an affair with his "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" co-star Helena Bonham Carter, another "Harry Potter" alum, portraying Bellatrix Lestrange four times. 

At least things weren't awkward on the set of the "Potter" movies. "You can't hold on to anything like that," Thompson told the Sunday Times (via Hello). "Helena and I made our peace years and years ago."

Evanna Lynch

In the HBO Max reunion special "Return to Hogwarts," Evanna Lynch discussed how she won the role of sweet, loopy, spaced-out Ravenclaw hippie witch Luna Lovegood in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (and then three more Potter movies) — her first ever professional gig. Lynch, 14 at the time, essentially nailed an open call audition and joined the cast of the franchise already in progress.

Lynch was a big fan of the Potter books, and during a 2018 appearance on "Dancing with the Stars" (via Cosmopolitan) she revealed part of why they were so important to her. At age 11, Lynch developed the eating disorder anorexia, for which she was hospitalized. The magical world of "Harry Potter" offered her a respite. "Anyone who's had an eating disorder knows it completely takes over your life," she said. "The only thing that could actually take my attention apart from that was the Harry Potter series." The actor has since written extensively about eating disorders and body positivity, both for The Harry Potter Alliance and in her memoir, "The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting" (via RTE).

Helen McCrory

A veteran of dozens of British films and TV series, Helen McCrory joined the Harry Potter cinematic universe for its final three films: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and the two-part "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Her role was the supporting but complex character of Narcissa Malfoy, the elite and subtly sympathetic mother of Slytherin bully turned potentially evildoer Draco Malfoy. 

McCrory was initially tapped for a much larger role in the Harry Potter universe. According to Entertainment Weekly, filmmakers cast her as high-level villain and loyal Lord Voldemort lieutenant Bellatrix Lestrange — Narcissa Malfoy's sister — in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," and subsequent films. However, McCrory backed out of the movie when she learned that she was pregnant. Producers still wanted to work with the actor and brought her into the franchise as Narcissa for the sixth, seventh, and eighth movies.

On April 16, 2021, McCrory's husband, actor Damian Lewis, released a statement on Twitter that his wife had died at home "after an heroic battle with cancer." According to The Independent, McCrory's cancer diagnosis was not public knowledge before her death from the disease. The actor was 52.

Richard Griffiths

While the child cast of the "Harry Potter" movies were largely inexperienced actors, the adult performers in the movie were some of the U.K.'s most celebrated and recognizable. Portraying Vernon Dursley, the mean, sour, apoplectic, abusive, non-magical uncle-by-marriage responsible for looking after Harry Potter after his parents are murdered but before he's whisked away to Hogwarts, was Richard Griffiths, a character actor in film and an often-awarded actor on the stage. Apart from "Harry Potter," Griffiths was best known for his role as lascivious Uncle Monty in the cult classic "Withnail and I," and he won a Tony Award for starring in "The History Boys." He'd later reunite with his "Potter" nephew, starring alongside Daniel Radcliffe in a 2008 New York production of "Equus" (via Playbill).

In March 2013, according to The Guardian, Griffiths underwent heart surgery at the University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire in the U.K. Shortly thereafter, he suffered complications and died. The actor was 65.

Dave Legeno

Actor Dave Legeno appeared in some of the most popular movies of the 2000s, including "Snatch" and "Batman Begins." Legeno was also a boxer and a mixed martial arts fighter, as per Yahoo!, making for a man who cut an imposing figure and who was well cast as Fenrir Greyback in the final three movies in the Harry Potter franchise. Greyback was a werewolf, a particularly violent one who liked to attack children and wanted to overthrow the magical community and spread the disease of lycanthropy around the world.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, two hikers in a remote section of wilderness near Death Valley in California came across a body. California Highway Patrol and the Inyo County Sheriff's Deputy's office responded to the call and identified the body as that of Legeno. Temperatures in Death Valley can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and authorities (via NBC News) ruled that Legeno had died of "heat-related issues." The actor was 50.

Rob Knox

Before he appeared in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," Rob Knox didn't have too many credits — small parts in the TV series "Trust Me, I'm a Teenager" and "After You're Gone" and in the 2004 adaptation of "King Arthur." Nevertheless, he landed a role in the sixth entry in one of the biggest franchises of all time as Marcus Belby, a Ravenclaw student and member of Professor Slughorn's elite Slug Club.

According to The Guardian Knox got involved in a fight outside Metro, a bar in Sidcup, Kent. Knox was trying to break up a fight and stop a knife-wielding assailant. "Rob was just trying to help out," witness Tom Hopkins told The Guardian. Four other people were treated for stab wounds, and Knox was also stabbed, five times, but his injuries proved fatal. The actor was 18. Karl Bishop, 22, was arrested for the death and sentenced to life without parole, per the BBC.