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Some actors will forever be known by a particular film or television role, indelibly stuck in fans’ minds, DVDs and Netflix to be seen in eternity. For stage actors, a role is performed day after day but often something to remember, rarely caught on film. It is strange to think that the former requires little memory on the actors’ part, but the latter considerable. Those memories are too much for Sir Michael Gambon, who is largely known as Professor Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter fans but had an illustrious theater career that he is giving up due to memory problems.
On Sunday, the 74-year-old veteran of theater and screen announced that he was forced to retire from stage acting because his memory problems were making it increasingly difficult for him to remember lines. He tried to get by with an earpiece over which he could be prompted when he forgot his lines. But, the need to be prompted grew, impairing his ability to perform. “You can’t be in theatre, free on the stage,” he noted, “… with someone reading you your lines.'”
Gambon said retiring from the stage broke his heart, but “when the script’s in front of me and it takes forever to learn. It’s frightening.”
The actor went through a period six years ago, when he had panic attacks about forgetting his lines. But, he knew this situation was not in his head. He reportedly consulted two doctors last year to test for Alzheimer’s disease. The good news was that he did not have Alzheimer’s, but was told that the memory loss he is experiencing is a result of aging.
While best known on this side of the Atlantic Ocean for portraying the headmaster at Hogwarts in six of the Harry Potter films, Gambon was actually a renowned stage actor in London. The Irish-born actor regularly appeared in productions with the Royal National Theatre acting company and the Royal Shakespeare Company for several decades. Gambon won the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best Actor (their equivalent of the Tony Awards in America) in 1988 and Best Comedy Performance in 1986. He was nominated for his stage acting four other times. (He has also won four British Academy of Film and Theatre Arts awards for film and television work, which included countless television mini-series as well as roles in Gosford Park, The King’s Speech, Quartet and more.) Queen Elizabeth knighted Gambon in 1998 for her services to drama.
While Harry Potter star Michael Gambon is giving up theater work due to his memory problems, he is not planning to say goodbye to toiling in film and television. Work in those media do not require an actor to learn an entire script and can allow for cue cards or off-screen prompting. The actor will soon be seen in the BBC adaptation of another J.K. Rowling work, her post-Potter novel The Casual Vacancy, where he plays a parish councilor. He is reportedly also filming a big-screen remake of a British sitcom Dad’s Army.
By Dyanne Weiss