Michael Gambon dead at 82: How the actor made Dumbledore his own

The actor portrayed the character in six films of the "Harry Potter" franchise.

Harry Potter et la coupe de feu Harry Potter and the gobelet of fire 2005 Real  Mike Newell Michael Gambon. Collection Christophel © Warner Bros. / He
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Sir Michael Gambon, who played Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore in six of the eight Harry Potter films died Thursday. He was 82.

His family's statement, which was issued by his publicist to the Associated Press, says he died following "a bout of pneumonia."

"We are devastated to announce the loss of Sir Michael Gambon. Beloved husband and father, Michael died peacefully in hospital with his wife Anne and son Fergus at his bedside," the statement said.

The actor had a remarkable career on both stage and screen. While his decades in the industry are to be celebrated, for a generation he defined one character in particular: Professor Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter film franchise.

Becoming Dumbledore

HARRY POTTER UND DIE KAMMER DES SCHRECKENS / Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets GB 2002 / Chris Columbus Professor McGonogall (MAGGIE SMITH), Professor Sprout (MIRIAM MARGOLYES), Albus Dumbledore (RICHARD HARRIS) Regie: Chris Columbus aka. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

In the books and films, Dumbledore was Harry Potter's (Daniel Radcliffe) mentor. The Hogwarts headmaster championed Potter as the Chosen One who would one day defeat Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), he is one of the most important characters of the Wizarding World franchise, and a key player in the Fantastic Beasts prequel movies, in which the character is played by Jude Law.

But Gambon wasn't the first Dumbledore. The actor took over the role from Richard Harris — who portrayed Hogwarts' Headmaster in the first two Harry Potter films until his death in 2002 — assuming the wizard's robes from 2004's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in 2011.

Richard Harris (L) played Dumbledore twice, before Michel Gambon took over the role in Harry Potter. (Warner Bros.)
Richard Harris (L) played Dumbledore twice, before Michel Gambon took over the role in Harry Potter. (Warner Bros.)

Harris left big shoes to fill but Gambon was took up the challenge with vigor, doing something fans of the franchise weren't expecting — he made it his own.

A new Dumbledore

In The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, Harris played Dumbledore as soft-spoken, homely, and warm: a character that you felt you could trust implicitly.

But Gambon took the character in a completely different direction, embracing his darker side, making him erratic and suspicious.

Dumbledore became more somber, prone to mood swings and anger — who can forget his outburst at Harry for putting his name in the Goblet of Fire in the franchise's fourth film?

Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore in 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'. (Credit: Warner Bros)
Gambon took the character in a completely different direction by embracing his darker side (Warner Bros)

It was a complete 180 for the character, and for some it was a shocking change after Harris' friendlier version of Dumbledore. Cannily, Gambon had predicted exactly what author J.K. Rowling intended for the professor in her books.

Dumbledore had dark secrets and he was a manipulative person underneath his soft exterior. He wasn't someone Harry — or the audience — should fully trust.

Gambon conveyed that onscreen even before readers were aware of the character's true nature, and he did so without making the professor seem unapproachable or a bad person.

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 30: Michael Gambon  participtaes in A Celebration of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando on January 30, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Aaron Davidson/Getty Images)
Michael Gambon said he "knew" how to play Dumbledore as soon as he got the role. (Getty Images) (Aaron Davidson via Getty Images)

Dumbledore is more complicated than that. He has a moral grayness to him that only became clear over the course of The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows, and Gambon understood that implicitly.

What Gambon said about Dumbledore

In a 2016 talk at Oxford Union, Gambon explained that he had a deep understanding of the character from the moment he took on the role.

"When I went on to play Dumbledore, I knew how to play him. I can’t tell you how, but you get something inside you that tells you what you’re going to do. The script informs you of the process, sort of," he explained. "Good ones do, bad ones don’t.

Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore in the Movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Promotional Movie Picture
Michael Gambon take on Albus Dumbledore was more morally grey, perfectly predicting what J.K. Rowling intended for the character in her books (Warner Bros.) (cineclassico)

While his take came as a shock at first, once viewers truly understood Dumbledore and his intentions for Harry as a soldier against Voldemort, Gambon's performance made perfect sense.

It paved the way for the final reveal, and showed that while Dumbledore was a father figure for Harry — he was far from perfect. It is testament to Gambon's acting skills that this was done so naturally.

Gambon became the quintessential version of the character for many, and while some felt his portrayal was too dark there is one thing that all Harry Potter fans can agree with. The actor made the character his own.