Actor Alan Rickman has passed away aged 69

The 69-year-old was suffering from cancer

British actor Alan Rickman, famous for roles in films such as Harry Potter and Love Actually, has died at the age of 69, his family has said.

The star won a BAFTA, Golden Globe, Emmy and Screen Actors Guild award in a career which began in the late 1970s. 

However, he shot to stardom in 1988 when he played Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis's adversary, in 'Die Hard'.

Rickman gained legions of new, younger fans for his role as Professor Severus Snape in the 'Harry Potter' films.

A family statement said: "The actor and director Alan Rickman has died from cancer at the age of 69.

"He was surrounded by family and friends."

Rickman's other notable roles included Jamie in 'Truly, Madly, Deeply' and Colonel Brandon in the 1995 version of 'Sense And Sensibility'.

His memorable turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1991 blockbuster 'Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves' earned him a BAFTA for best supporting actor.

He took home a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his performance as 'Rasputin: Dark Servant Of Destiny' in HBO's 1996 drama.

Most recently the actor had been filming the upcoming blockbuster sequel 'Alice Through The Looking Glass', where he voiced Absolem the Caterpillar.

That film is due for release in May.

Harry Potter creator JK Rowling paid tribute to the actor on Twitter:

James Phelps, who played Fred Weasley, said he was shocked and sad to hear the news.

He tweeted: "One of the nicest actors I've ever met. Thoughts and prayers with his family at this time."

TV star Stephen Fry wrote:

Just last year Rickman revealed he had married his high school sweetheart after 50 years together.

Rickman had been a familiar face on British television since 1982, starting with his role as the Reverend Obadiah Slope in 'The Barchester Chronicles', and being bolstered by his part as Jamie in 1990's 'Truly, Madly, Deeply'.

He portrayed Éamon de Valera in the 1996 film 'Michael Collins'.

A directorial debut happened in 1995 when he directed Emma Thompson and her mother Phyllida Law in 'The Winter Guest'.

He teamed up with Kate Winslet last year for period drama 'A Little Chaos', his second film as director.

He was born in Acton, London, in 1946.

After college, he worked as a graphic designer for a radical newspaper and later opened a graphic design studio.

Three years later he contacted the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) to request an audition, and won a place.

He studied there between 1972 and 1974. He went on to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company before moving on to television.

Paul Byrne is film critic with TV3. He told Newstalk Lunchtime that Rickman played a good bad guy.

Just last year Rickman revealed he had married his high school sweetheart after 50 years together.

Rickman had been in a relationship with Rima Horton since they met when he was 19 and she was 18.

The pair had been living together in London for 50 years, and Rickman revealed to German newspaper Bild last April that they tied the knot in secret.

Asked what the secret of his successful relationship was, though they were not married, he replied: "We are married, just recently".

He added: "It was great because no one was there. After the wedding in New York, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and ate lunch".

Speaking at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival last March, he talked about his Irish roots.