Alan Rickman has died at the age of 69. A fabulous actor, he was renowned for playing roguish baddies we couldn’t help but love, from the slick Hans Gruber in the classic 1988 thriller Die Hard to the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham in the ludicrously entertaining 1991 fantasy Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He is, though, perhaps best remembered for his role as the shadowy Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, which immortalised him for an entire generation.
You could argue that it was his delivery, his craggy yet comforting voice like a rock wrapped in velvet, that made Alan Rickman such a compelling presence. And if you were to take up that argument, science would have your back. A 2008 study confirmed that the British actor had the perfect voice, as participants were asked to rate 50 voices, before researches compiled the results and assessed them for a combination of tone, frequency, intonation and speed. You guessed it: good old Rickman came out on top, with fellows British actors Jeremy Irons, Michael Gambon and Dame Judy Dench, along with the broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, ranking just behind him.
The University of Sheffield’s Professor of the History of Linguistics, Andrew Linn, who conducted the research, said: “”As humans we instinctively know which voices send shivers down our spine and which make us shudder with disgust… The emotional responses panellists had to the voices were surprising and go some way to explaining how voiceover artists or radio DJs are selected, or why particular celebrity voices appeal.”
You want an emotional response to the voice of a man whose diction could elicit a flutter from the coldest of hearts? Have a go on this clip of Rickman reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130…