Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter star Helen McCrory, a legend of the stage and screen, has died aged 52 after a secret ‘heroic battle’ with cancer, her husband Damian Lewis today revealed.
The ‘beautiful and mighty’ actress, who played Polly Gray in hit BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders and Narcissa Malfoy in the globally-loved Potter franchise, died ‘peacefully’ at home surrounded by friends and family. The family had not publicly announced the news of her illness.
In a moving tribute on Twitter, Lewis, star of TV series Homeland, said: ‘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.
‘She died as she lived. 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, who was awarded the OBE for services to drama in the 2017 New Years Honours, was best known for playing the matriarch Polly in Peaky Blinders and Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films.
Her other movie roles included playing MP Clair Dowar in Skyfall and Cherie Blair in The Queen and The Special Relationship. On television, she appeared in Doctor Who, Inside No 9 and His Dark Materials, and last year appeared in the Hugh Laurie drama Roadkill on the BBC and ITV’s Quiz.
She also had an accomplished stage career, winning plaudits for National Theatre roles in productions of Medea and Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea. McCrory was also was nominated for an Olivier for her role as Rosalind in As You Like It in at London’s Wyndham’s theatre in 2006.
McCrory and Lewis married in 2007 after falling in love when they were both cast in the play Five Gold Rings at the off-West End Almeida Theatre back in 2003. Together they share a daughter Manon, 14, and son Gulliver, 13.
Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter star Helen McCrory has passed away at 52 after ‘heroic battle’ with cancer, her husband Damian Lewis confirmed this afternoon (the couple are pictured last month on Good Morning Britain)
Happy times: Helen had been married to fellow actor Damian since 2007 and shared two children with him – daughter Manon, 14, and 13-year-old son Gulliver (the couple pictured in February last year)
McCrory was best known for playing the matriarch Polly Gray in hit BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders
Helen pictured as Polly Gray in Peaky Blinders left, and as Narcissa Malfoy in the Potter franchise right
In his statement, Lewis said: ‘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’
HELEN MCCRORY: STAGE AND SCREEN STAR WHO CARVED OUT COMPLEX CHARACTERS
Across a 30-year career, Helen McCrory carved out a reputation for playing fiery, complex characters on stage and screen.
The actress, who has died aged 52 from cancer, was best known for starring as matriarch Polly Gray in Birmingham-set BBC crime thriller Peaky Blinders and as politician Clair Dowar in the James Bond film Skyfall.
She also portrayed Cherie Blair in both 2006’s The Queen and 2010’s The Special Relationship, royal and political dramas written by The Crown’s Peter Morgan.
Elsewhere, she appeared as Narcissa Malfoy, mother of Draco, in the final three Harry Potter films.
McCrory was born in Paddington, London, in August 1968 to a Welsh mother and Scottish-born father, the eldest of three children.
She attended school in Hertfordshire, then spent a year living in Italy, before returning to London to study acting at the Drama Centre.
In 1990 she made her stage debut as Gwendolen Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest at Harrogate Theatre.
She appeared in some 25 productions during the 1990s through to the mid-2010s, with credits including Macbeth, As You Like It and Pride And Prejudice.
McCrory and Homeland star Damian Lewis married in 2007 and had their daughter Manon in 2006 and son Gulliver in 2007.
Her first pregnancy forced her to pull out of Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix, in which she had been cast as Bellatrix Lestrange.
The part went to Helena Bonham Carter but McCrory was later cast as Bellatrix’s sister Narcissa.
She also took the role of villainous Rosanna Calvierri in the Doctor Who episode The Vampires Of Venice.
In 2014, she played the title role in the National Theatre’s production of the Greek tragedy Medea, directed by Carrie Cracknell.
The same year she guest starred in TV series Penny Dreadful before returning in the following series as the main antagonist.
In Peaky Blinders she played Polly Gray, aunt of Cillian Murphy’s Tommy Shelby and the treasurer of the Peaky Blinders crime family.
She also lent her voice as a daemon to His Dark Materials on the BBC.
McCrory was made an OBE in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to drama but almost missed the commendation after mistaking the notification letter for an unpaid bill for her husband.
Collecting the honour at Buckingham Palace, she told the PA news agency she was particularly thrilled to receive her gong from the Queen, saying: ‘I am so excited, I am so elated.’
On April 16, Lewis announced in a statement his wife had died from cancer, describing her as ‘beautiful and mighty’.
Some two months before her death, McCrory appeared alongside her husband on Good Morning Britain via a video call to promote the Prince’s Trust and the work it was doing during the pandemic.
The couple were last seen during an appearance on Good Morning Britain last month, where they appeared to speak about their charity work for the Prince’s Trust and the Prince’s Trust Awards.
McCrory and Lewis led fundraising efforts to provide hot meals for NHS staff during the pandemic. Their work led to almost £1million in donations to the Feed NHS scheme, and partnerships with chains including Leon and Wasabi.
Leading tributes to the late actress, actor Michael Sheen, who worked with McCrory in ITV drama Quiz, tweeted: ‘So funny, so passionate, so smart and one of the greatest actors of our time. 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.’
Harry Potter author JK Rowling said 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.’
Actor Jim Howick, who worked with McCrory and her husband on the 2015 comedy film Bill, tweeted: ‘This is so shocking and sad. Helen along with Damien were both terrific fun on Bill.
‘She was so generous with her time and her performance. I urge everyone to listen to her Desert Island Disks. What a talent we have lost.’
Piers Wenger, BBC director of drama, paid tribute to McCrory, who starred in the broadcaster’s Peaky Blinders.
‘Helen was one of the finest actresses this country will ever see,’ he said. ‘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.’
The official Twitter account for gang drama Peaky Blinders, which starred McCrory, shared a tribute to the actress.
Alongside a picture of McCrory as Aunt Polly, a message said: ‘All our love and thoughts are with Helen’s family. Rest in peace
Rev Richard Coles was among those paying tribute. He wrote on Twitter: ‘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.’
Actor and director Noel Clarke said: ‘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.’
Actress Michelle Collins tweeted: ‘I’m really shocked so so sad I had the pleasure of meeting her and briefly worked with her, she certainly was a Tour de force, clever, charming and fierce and a brilliant actor my heart goes out to Damian and her family, bloody cancer I hate you!!’
The actor Kevin McKidd, who starred opposite McCrory in the 2000 TV miniseries Anna Karenina, tweeted: ‘I am utterly heartbroken to hear this.. Damian I’m sending you and the family all my love and warmth at this time.
‘Helen , we love you. Your talent , humanity and passion for life will be remembered by me and everyone your life touched with deep gratitude. Rest In Peace dear one.’
Television presenter Dermot O’Leary paid tribute to McCrory, tweeting: ‘Had the good fortune to meet and interview Helen McCrory a few times.
‘A mighty talent, with always a hint of mischief. Really lovely company. Very sad news.’
Comedian Matt Lucas, who worked with McCrory on the FeedNHS campaign to supply food for NHS staff amid the pandemic, tweeted: ‘Helen McCrory will be remembered not just for her remarkable stage and screen performances, but also for her selflessness and generosity.
‘She and Damian were the motor driving FeedNHS, working tirelessly during the pandemic to raise millions for others. What a tremendous loss.’
The Wizarding World Twitter account, home to the Harry Potter franchise, tweeted: ‘We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our beloved Helen McCrory, who played Narcissa Malfoy with such depth and brilliance in the Harry Potter film series.
‘She was a wonderful actor and a very dear friend; Harry Potter fans will miss her very much.’
Comedian John Bishop tweeted: ‘I am shattered to hear this news . Helen was a beautiful supportive person to those of us who had the honour to know or work with her. The world has just lost some of its sparkle.
‘My heart goes out to Damian and the family, no words of condolences will ever be enough.’
Paying tribute to McCrory, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan recalled her help in unveiling a statue of Millicent Fawcett, where McCrory performed an adaptation of one of the suffragist leader’s speeches.
‘So sad to hear this news,’ he tweeted. ‘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.’
William Russell, Lord Mayor of the City of London and the half-brother of Lewis, said: ‘We will all miss my sister-in-law Helen McCrory. I have many fond memories of her.
‘A huge loss to my family as well as to British acting. Thank you for the messages of condolence and sympathy which people have sent.’
McCrory was born in Paddington, London, to a Welsh mother and Scottish-born father and was the eldest of three children. She attended school in Hertfordshire, then spent a year living in Italy, before returning to London to study acting at the Drama Centre.
McCrory also played MP Clair Dowar in the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall alongside Daniel Craig (right), and last year appeared in the Hugh Laurie drama Roadkill on the BBC (left)
McCrory was best known for playing the matriarch Polly Gray in hit BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders
Helen McCrory attends the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards 2019 at The Royal Festival Hall on May 12, 2019
Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory at the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles in September 2012
Helen McCrory is made an OBE at Buckingham Palace in London, in November 2017
Helen McCrory and Jennifer Saunders at the British Vogue Centenary Gala Dinner in London in May 2016
Her passing comes after she joined Lewis on the BBC Coronavirus Newscast podcast to discuss the difficulties she’s been feeling in the pandemic.
She said: ‘We’re all doing our bit and not going out. But you feel responsible, you know you’re watching the news, we’re all reading it, we’re all finding out what’s happening over the world, and it’s so overwhelming…
‘It sort of seems, as Damian says, it’s fantastical. You think you’re absolutely fine, you’re pottering along, you’re coping with it. Cleaning, cooking, cleaning, cooking, cleaning, cooking. And you suddenly burst into tears.
‘And it’s this fear, and it’s the vulnerability coming out, and then you pick yourself up and you go along again as if nothing happened. And it’s very surreal.’
The couple are known for their philanthropic efforts and have dedicated much of their time to charity work.
In September 2019, they were on hand to help honour finance workers killed in September 11 attacks, as they took calls on behalf of their chosen charity Cure EB.
Last year, they held a fundraiser in which they hoped to raise £1million to give hot meals to busy NHS staff who are working tirelessly during the coronavirus crisis.
On the fundraiser, she said at the time: ‘So we decided that we wanted to try and get food to these people who were working such long hours and weren’t able to.
‘So we phoned a man called John Vincent, who’s at Leon, and he was already interested, and already trying to help the NHS.
‘And together we started a campaign to try and raise £1 million to feed NHS, which the front line was London initially, and as we’re getting closer to that million, we’re taking that out nationwide.’
McCrory appeared in ITV series Quiz, based on a controversy surrounding the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? show
McCrory pictured second from the right alongside Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton and Helena Bonham Carter for Harry Potter
Damian Lewis receives an OBE pictured with Helen McCrory at Buckingham Palace in November 2014
Helen McCrory and Jerry Hall at the Prince’s Trust ‘Invest In Futures’ Gala, London, in February 2016