Helen McCrory death: Actor dies from cancer, aged 52

McCrory’s husband and fellow actor Damian Lewis pays tribute to ‘beautiful and mighty woman’

Roisin O'Connor
Friday 16 April 2021 20:00 BST
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Helen McCrory, the stage and screen star known for her roles in the Harry Potter films and the BBC series Peaky Blinders, has died from cancer aged 52, her husband has said.

Actor Damian Lewis, who married McCrory in 2007 and with whom he has two children, shared a statement on Twitter that said she had died peacefully at home after “a heroic battle with cancer”.

“I’m heartbroken to announce that after a heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family,” he said.

“She died as she lived,” he continued. “Fearlessly. God we love her and know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives. She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you.”

McCrory’s cancer diagnosis had been kept private from the public.

Born in Paddington, England, to a Welsh mother and Scottish father, McCrory enjoyed a successful career across stage and screen.

She was nominated for a Laurence Olivier theatre award in 2006 for her West End performance as Rosalind in a production of As You Like It, and for a London Evening Standard award for her role as Elena in Checkov’s Uncle Vanya at the Donmar Warehouse.

Among her many film credits was Interview with a Vampire (1994), The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), and as Cherie Blair in The Queen (2006). In 2014 she starred in Alan Rickman’s film A Little Chaos, opposite Kate Winslet.

She won a new generation of fans for her performance as Narcissa Malfoy, mother to Harry Potter’s nemesis Draco Malfoy, in the film adaptations of JK Rowling’s series of books.

Another of her most memorable roles was as the matriarch figure Polly Gray in the BBC series Peaky Blinders, for which she received critical raves.

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“She really is the brains with Tommy behind the family and you see the difference of how to rule,” she told the BBC in 2014.

“One from a male point of view, which is much more physical and violent and threatening, and one from a female point of view, which is just as physically violent and threatening, but is also psychological.”

McCrory as Polly Shelby

She was awarded an OBE in 2017.

After Lewis shared the news of McCrory’s death, fans and fellow actors rushed to pay tribute.

Michael Sheen has led tributes to the “passionate” and “funny” actress. Sheen, who worked with McCrory on ITV drama Quiz, praised the actress in a post on social media.

“So funny, so passionate, so smart and one of the greatest actors of our time,” he tweeted.

“From the first moment I met her when we were just kids it was obvious she was very special.

“It was an honour to work with her and know her. Much love to Damian and her family. Heartbreaking.”

Actor and writer Mark Gatiss said: “Unbearable and unbelievable that Helen McCrory has gone. A genuine firecracker with an aching vulnerability. A wonderful actor and a wonderful woman. Thoughts with Damian and family. RIP.”

“Helen McCrory will be remembered not just for her remarkable stage and screen performances, but also for her selflessness and generosity,” comedian, presenter and actor Matt Lucas tweeted. “She and Damian were the motor driving FeedNHS, working tirelessly during the pandemic to raise millions for others. What a tremendous loss.”

JK Rowling paid tribute on Twitter: “I'm devastated to learn of the death of Helen McCrory, an extraordinary actress and a wonderful woman who's left us far too soon. My deepest condolences to her family, especially her husband and children. Simply heartbreaking news.”

“Had the good fortune to meet and interview Helen McCrory a few times,” presenter Dermot O’Leary tweeted. “A mighty talent, with always a hint of mischief. Really lovely company. Very sad news.”

Olivia Colman, Helen McCrory and Anne-Marie Duff at the afterparty for the 65th Evening Standard awards

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, wrote: “So sad to hear this news. Helen McCrory was an unparalleled talent and made a difference to many young Londoners through her charity work. I have fond memories of her helping us unveil the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. Sending love to her family.”

“I’m absolutely gutted by the passing of Helen McCrory,” wrote It’s a Sin star Callum Scott Howells. “Truly, one of the greats to have ever blessed our stages and our screens. Her talent and work was legendary and sublime. Sending love to all who knew her and was lucky enough to work with her. A true legend.”

Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Actor and writer Ben Willbond tweeted: “Heartbroken at the news that Helen McCrory has died. She was so so brilliant when she came to work on Bill. Funny, generous, some wicked stories. I was in awe. My heart goes out to Damian and their family. Rest in peace.”

“Very sorry to hear of the death of Helen McCrory, such a brilliant actor; heartfelt condolences to Damian Lewis, their children, and all who loved her,” wrote the Rev Richard Coles.

Noel Clarke, who appeared with McCrory in the crime thriller, wrote: “RIP #HelenMcCrory you were the best and always lovely to me. It was a pleasure to work with you. Love ya. Blessings to Damian and the family.”

The official Twitter account for the Old Vic theatre in London said: “We are devastated to hear of the loss of Helen McCrory. She was brilliant, vivacious, and she made us laugh. A luminous presence on stage and on screen.”

Piers Wenger, BBC director of drama, said: “Helen was one of the finest actresses this country will ever see. From Potter to Peaky, from Blair to Bond, Helen’s fearlessness made every part she played unique and unmissable. Her body of work speaks of her extraordinary talent, what it doesn’t speak of is her kindness, intelligence and sense of fun.

“This is too soon, too cruel. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this incredibly sad time.”

McCrory is survived by her husband Damian Lewis, and their two children, Manon and Gulliver.

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