A Look Back At Robbie Coltrane's Life

Some deaths leave a giant-sized hole in your heart. There is perhaps no better way to express the grief of Robbie Coltrane's passing. The actor, whose celebrated portrayal of the towering Rubeus Hagrid in the "Harry Potter" film franchise made him a childhood treasure for millions, died on October 14, 2022, in Scotland. The 72-year-old had been unwell, The New York Times reported.

A film and television veteran highly esteemed for his versatility in acing in both comedic and serious roles, Coltrane had an almost four-decade-long screen career. From leading the British crime series "Cracker" — which earned him a triple BAFTA win — to ruling the screen even with minor appearances in James Bond films, the late actor's contribution to the arts was sizeable. To that end, he was honored with the Order of the British Empire in 2006.

Beyond the screen, Coltrane was known for living on the wild side. His revelrous night-outs around London were notorious, as was his youthful support for radical social causes (via The Guardian). His spirits remained high till the end. "I still like to drive my '65 Mustang at ridiculous speeds and things like that," he said, even as he was 70 years old, per the Evening Standard. The joie de vivre Coltrane so vigorously personified in real life also colored the characters he played on screen, where he remains immortalized forever. Here's a look back at the life and times of the beloved Robbie Coltrane. 

He was quite the rebel during his school days

Robbie Coltrane stood apart from the crowd — both literally and figuratively. Complying with convention was never in the cards for the Scottish actor best known for playing a half-giant gamekeeper in the "Harry Potter" franchise. The no-nonsense demeanor he came to be recognized for — by the press as well as by fans — extended far back into his childhood when Coltrane was a bit of a rebel. "I didn't accept the hierarchy, basically," he told The Guardian, elaborating on classroom squabbles he apparently got into as a school boy and insisting that certain school rules didn't make sense. "What do you mean, you can't walk past a prefect with your f***ing jacket undone?" Being a sturdy boy played to his advantage; it was survival of the fittest, as he called it. After graduation, he took up a painting course at the Glasgow Art School (via BBC News).

Coltrane's streak of challenging the status quo continued well into his adulthood, as he made his sentiments about class and other social issues known. He distanced himself from the rich celebrity status, telling The Guardian, "I don't have that kind of money." His left-leaning advocacy earned him the moniker Red Robbie. It was just one of the many names he had, another being Anthony McMillan, his birth name. Surprised? Robbie Coltrane was a name he fashioned for himself only after becoming an actor, honoring the iconic American jazz musician John Coltrane (via The Guardian).

He was already famous before playing Hagrid in the Harry Potter films

Hagrid forms the most gigantic part of Robbie Coltrane's legacy. But, as generations that came before the "Harry Potter" films did would attest, the Scotsman proved himself an actor worth his salt long before playing the beloved gamekeeper at J.K. Rowling's magical Hogwarts School. Starting in the 1980s, when Coltrane's television career took off, he made a mark with British audiences through classic shows, like "Alfresco" and "Tutti Frutti," which captured the jocular tenor that so came to define several of his roles later (via Empire). His appearance on the iconic sitcom "Blackadder" – as the hefty dictionary-bearing Dr. Samuel Johnson — was brief but memorable. 

A recognizable figure on the alt-comedy scene, he expanded his oeuvre with a turn to the drama genre that saw him dabble in characters that were more serious than quintessential comedic Coltrane (via The Guardian). Crime drama series "Cracker," which Coltrane led as the anti-social, crime-solving Dr. Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald, was a turning point for the actor, earning him remarkable praise from the critics and a record-making BAFTA awards hattrick (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Success followed him to the big screen, as Coltrane came to wider attention as mafia boss Valentin Zukovsky in two James Bond films, "Goldeneye" and "The World Is Not Enough." As he rode high on the wave of his celebrity, the role of Hagrid came to Coltrane in 2000 (per BBC). 

He enjoyed his drink

Robbie Coltrane famously indulged in alcohol during his lifetime. "Booze is my undoing," he once said, in one of the most oft-quoted statements from his life. "I can drink a gallon of beer and not feel the least bit drunk." He further revealed he had the capacity to drink up to a bottle of whisky a day (via Far Out Magazine). Coltrane's propensity for alcohol incidentally mirrored that of the characters he played on screen. Dr. Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald on the British crime drama series "Cracker" was shown to be a heavy drinker. "I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I am too much," the criminal psychologist said in a defining dialogue on the show (via Apple TV). Hagrid in "Harry Potter" also hit the bottle from time to time, as noted by no less than the United States Department of Justice

According to Daily Mail, when he was younger and apparently known for his boozy carousing around London, Coltrane used to show off a party trick wherein he could chew glass! Coltrane's drinking habit came to the forefront in a big way in 2015, when he was hospitalized following a flight. Reports at the time alleged that the Scottish actor had guzzled down alcohol at the airport lounge before boarding the flight — a claim his agent refuted, saying his symptoms possibly indicated the flu (via Mirror). 

He was as funny in real life as Hagrid was on screen

Robbie Coltrane was full of funnies — and there are many who could vouch for it. The funnyman was beloved for playing the bumbling, endearing Hagrid in all eight installments of the "Harry Potter" franchise. The flair with which Coltrane brought alive the cloddish mien of the Hogwarts School gamekeeper from the original books was presumably founded in the actor's own propensity for comedy. Hugh Laurie, Coltrane's castmate from the classic British show "Alfresco," revealed that he hadn't "ever laughed or learned" as much as he did with Coltrane. Other tributes that poured in for Coltrane following his death invariably affirmed his humorous disposition. "[He was] funny enough to cause helpless hiccups & honking as we made our first TV show, 'Alfresco,'" comedian Stephen Fry tweeted.

in their tributes to Coltrane, Hogwarts alums Daniel Radcliffe and Tom Felton reminisced about how effortlessly the late actor kept the atmosphere light and morales boosted on the "Harry Potter" set by making them laugh (via Deadline). "He loved making us laugh, and he was incredibly good at it," Radcliffe also recalled in HBO Max's 2022 television special, "Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts" (via Cheatsheet). Much of Coltrane's early work, as a stand-up and television artist, was in the comedic sphere, with The Guardian dubbing him "a cool guy for the '80s comedy generation to have on its side." 

He wasn't particularly fond of public attention

Though his persona was deemed rather spirited, Robbie Coltrane was no fan of public or media attention. Even as an eminent personality of the screen, the Scottish actor's repertoire featured limited interviews and the ones he gave often exhibited his razor-sharp tongue. "If you write that down I will kill you," he once said, while being interviewed for The Guardian. Not unlike his character Hagrid, the interviewee noted that Coltrane continually let slip personal details during the conversation only to retract them. "I shouldn't have said that, I should not have said that" is quintessential Hagrid from "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

It was perhaps his penchant for privacy that caused him to calculate his words carefully, but Coltrane was no stranger to making in-your-face admissions in the press. Expressing his annoyance with people who took the liberty of being overly friendly with television stars, Coltrane said in 2004, "There's a kind of terrible lack of respect ... they think that it's all right to come and sit on your knee in the middle of an airport," reflecting on his stint in the drama series "Cracker" (via Evening Standard).

Controversial British broadcaster Piers Morgan claimed in the Daily Mail to have been threatened, allegedly unprompted, by Coltrane at a London restaurant. Towards the end of his life, Coltrane sequestered himself on a property in the Scottish Highlands with little interaction with the community outside, OK! reported. 

He loved the Harry Potter trio as his own kids

There's no greater testimony than the outpouring of grief that followed Robbie Coltrane's death to show just how significantly he shaped the collective childhood of entire generations as Hagrid. Hands down the "Harry Potter" actor's most universally loved role was one with Coltrane — not just in body, but also in spirit. Both had shared sensibilities of gigantic love, laughter, warmth, and fondness for children — especially for the trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Coltrane co-starred with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson in all eight "Harry Potter" films, the trio's friend and father figure rolled into one. "Watching them growing up was kind of like watching your own grow up, you know. Because you were protecting them," he reflected, in HBO Max's special on the franchise's 20-year anniversary (via The Sun). 

In his tribute to the late actor, Grint attested to Coltrane's real-life likeness to the gamekeeper: "Just as Hagrid was in the books and films Robbie was in life — warm, compassionate and hilarious. A giant hearted man who was still looking out for us even decades later."

On Twitter, James Phelps, who played Ron's brother, Fred Weasley, warmly recalled Coltrane's words of encouragement to him on his first day on set: "Enjoy it, you'll be great." Of the attention he received as Hagrid, Coltrane told The Guardian, "Kids come up to you and they go: 'Would you like to sign my book?' with those big doe-eyes. And it's a serious responsibility."

He claimed to have a steady girlfriend in the years before his death

A famously private celebrity, Robbie Coltrane kept the details of his personal life under wraps. Little is known about his romantic endeavors, save for the fact that he was briefly married to Rhona Gemmell. A sculptor, Gemmell shared a considerable age gap with Coltrane (per In Touch Weekly). The couple welcomed two children — son Spencer McMillan and daughter Alice McMillan — and eventually tied the knot in 1999. The couple parted ways in 2003, while Coltrane's popularity as Hagrid in the "Harry Potter" films flew high. Though the split was amicable, it left the Scottish actor devastated and he withdrew from public glare following the event, according to reports at the time (via The Sun). 

In 2020, Coltrane gave the world a rare insight into his love life, revealing in an interview that he had been going steady with a woman for 12 years (via Express). He refrained from identifying her but added that he didn't want more children. While Coltrane's admission about his girlfriend made a splash in the media, some doubted the claim. Andrew Edmonstone, Coltrane's neighbor and proprietor, told OK! that this mystery woman had never been spotted and may only have been a way to keep interest in Coltrane's life buzzing. 

He was a stand-up comedian before he became an actor

Humor ran through Robbie Coltrane's veins long before he made the world chuckle on the big and small screens. After art school didn't open avenues for the Scotsman and before he went on to become a BAFTA-winning actor, he enjoyed a stint as a stand-up comic (per The Hollywood Reporter). He displayed his massive talent of making people laugh around clubs in Edinburgh, where Coltrane's wit and comic timing became the stuff of legend. He also took to theater on the home turf. Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh took to Twitter to reminisce about the late actor's performance in a production of John Byrne's play "The Slab Boys." Though he was a gifted actor, acting wasn't always a plain sailing experience for Coltrane. "I threw up every night before going on stage," he recalled (via The Guardian).   

When Coltrane turned to screen acting in London, it was only inevitable that he tested the waters with the comedy genre. Much of Coltrane's early work was for television, beginning with minor roles in shows such as "Play for Today" and "Metal Mickey" between the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recurring roles in comedy sketch shows like "A Kick Up the Eighties" and "Alfresco" announced his arrival on the television comedy scene in a significant way. The 1987 series "Tutti Frutti," in which he starred alongside Emma Thompson, ultimately established his status as a comedian of note and made him a household name. 

He was J.K. Rowling's first choice to play Hagrid

It's impossible for us to imagine anyone except Robbie Coltrane in the role of Hagrid. It was apparently equally impossible for "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling. The Scottish actor was her first choice to play the half-giant gamekeeper at the fictional Hogwarts School, casting director Janet Hirshenson told HuffPost.

"Robbie is just perfect for Hagrid because Hagrid is a very loveable character, quite likeable, quite comic," Rowling explained (via BBC). "But he had to have — you really do have to sense — a certain toughness underneath, and I think Robbie does that perfectly" (per BBC). So seemingly resolute was the decision to cast Coltrane that hardly anyone else stood a chance to play the character, not even someone with the genius of Robin Williams. The Oscar awardee, who endeared himself to the world much as Hagrid did, was reportedly turned away from "Harry Potter" on account of the franchise's policy of a British-only cast. "There were a couple of parts I would have wanted to play," he admitted in 2001, the year the first installment of the film series was released (via The Guardian).

Coltrane shared a close friendship with the "Harry Potter" author, recognizing the power her books had on getting multitudes of children interested in reading (via Far Out Magazine). In a touching tribute to the late actor, Rowling tweeted, "He was an incredible talent, a complete one off, and I was beyond fortunate to know him, work with him and laugh my head off with him." 

He spoke about his death not long before passing away

The heartbreaking news of Robbie Coltrane's death on October 14, 2022 prompted an immediate wave of sadness on social media. Tributes to the late Scottish actor, who lived to be 72, were supplemented with old clips of him in fan-loved roles as Hagrid from the "Harry Potter" films or as Dr. Fitz from the crime series "Cracker."

One particular video that went viral showed a teary-eyed Coltrane acknowledging his own eventual death while reflecting on the everlasting legacy of Hagrid (via Parade). Talking to the audience for HBO Max's "Harry Potter" 2022 reunion special, Coltrane heartrendingly said: "The legacy of the movies is that my children's generation will show them to their children. So you could be watching it in 50 years time, easy. I'll not be here, sadly ... but Hagrid will." 

The television special, "Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts," featured the return of many members of the cast and crew from the successful film franchise based on J.K. Rowling's book series. A magical hit of nostalgia, the special looked back on behind-the-scenes moments from the shoot, with leads Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson singing praises of the cast, especially for Coltrane, whom they said brought great fun and warmth to the set (via Cheatsheet). In a fitting final tribute that doubtless summarized all their emotions towards Coltrane, Watson wrote in an Instagram Story (via Today), "You made us a family. Know you were that to us. There was no better Hagrid."