Though it’s Hagrid the gentle giant of the Harry Potter franchise that he’s most likely to be remembered for by a generation but Robbie Coltrane was an acerbic wit with a distrust of and indeed dislike of the press.
Born Anthony Robert McMillan on 20th March 1950 in the wealthy Rutheglen suburb outside Glasgow, Scotland to a GP Gather and a teacher mother he would attend Glanalmond college referred to as something of a Scottish equivalent to Eton. A college that enforced discipline he would often rebel against it all almost being expelled. Yet he was good at rugby, adept at the schools debating society and won prizes for art for which he would then pursue at Glasgow School of Art which he began in 1968 where he was ridiculed for his perceived posh accent. A keen advocate of socialist beliefs he soon earned the nickname of Red Robbie. And yet he was disappointed with the canvases he painted feeling that the ideas in his head never made it into his work. It was at art college that he also began performing where he was noticed by actors Bill Paterson who encouraged him to be serious about acting so impressed were they be his performance skills. A jazz aficionado he would change his name to Coltrane because of his fandom for jazz saxophonist John Coltrane
Yet it was comedy which attracted the attention of the public when he appeared in 80’s sketch show ‘A kick up the Eighties as well as other sketch shows such as ‘Alfresco’ where he would also work with fledgling talents Fry & Laurie, Rik Mayall and Ben Elton and in this capacity he would regularly appear in the Comic Strip presents TV films as well as a TV comedy Blackadder. He had had small roles in films as varied as Flash Gordon, Krull, Britannia Hospital and Mona Lisa but 1987 saw him star opposite Emma Thompson in a straight role in ‘Tutti Frutti’ earning him his first BAFTA nomination. He now had fame and money and able to more readily eat out and drink – yet it was drink that would affect him deeply and he slowly found himself increasingly dependent on alcohol to an almost self-destructive degree and a long term relationship with Robin Paine that had started at art college ended because if it but by the end of the 1980’s he met Rhona Gemeel and by 1999 they married having had a son.
The 1990’s saw him appear in the title role of TV drama series, ‘Cracker’ as a hard drinking , chain smoking police psychologist. He was quite simply brilliant in a brilliantly written TV series that won him three consecutive BAFTA awards which helped eradicate memories of flippant comedies Nuns on the Run (1990) and Comic Strip film ‘The Pope Must Die’ neither of which had been box office hits and he turned away from comedy for dramatic roles.. 1995 and 1999 saw him in consecutive Bond films as a Russian mobster and he was by now a household name and highly regarded talent. But it was in 2001 that he would secure the role that would perhaps be the one he would be best remembered. He was Hagrid in the Harry Potter franchise, a part that author J K Rowling had written specifically with him in mind and she was resolute in him being cast in the role for which he would be rewarded with another BAFTA nomination. It came at a good time for him as his personal life was troubled when in 2003 he split from his wife. The break up understandably affected him greatly and the drinking which he had managed to curtail once again became problematic for him with his weight also on the rise having lost over four stone previously.
Professionally he was still in demand and 2006 saw him awarded an OBE and 2009 bought an end to his role as Hagrid as the franchise ended too. His last really great role was in the TV drama series National Treasure where he played one half of a comedy double act until he is accused of historic sexual abuse and the role saw him nominated again for a BAFTA. From there his work was thin appearing in only two further productions one, again as Hagrid and his last as Orson Welles.
Robbie Coltrane died from a longstanding undisclosed illness at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert on 14th October 2022 aged 72.