Coltrane, who was born Anthony Robert McMillan in the affluent Glasgow neighbourhood of Rutherglen, attended the exclusive boarding school Glenalmond College, where he was subjected to what he called “legalised violence” in the form of physical punishment, before enrolling in the Glasgow School of Art. He began to doubt his talent as a painter and instead pursued a career in live performance, appearing in plays with radical theatre groups (including a company from San Quentin State jail) and doing standup comedy under the alias Coltrane in honour of the great jazz musician John Coltrane.
His debut film role was alongside Queenie Watts, who played a care-home escapee, in Waterloo Sunset (1979), a Richard Eyre-directed Play for Today. He went on to make cameo appearances in movies and TV programmes including Flash Gordon, Are You Being Served?, Krull, and Britannia Hospital, where his towering stature and unique features made him instantly recognisable.
In the early 1980s, Coltrane’s success on television sketch series like Alfresco and A Kick Up the Eighties allowed his comedic talents to take centre stage. As a result, he became identified with the school of 80s alternative comedy that also included Ben Elton, Emma Thompson, and Rik Mayall. This was further cemented by his recurring role in Comic Strip Presents films like Five Go Mad in Dorset, The Beat Generation, and The Bullshitters.
Nonetheless, Coltrane’s acting chops were increasingly apparent, and he achieved major success in 1987 with Tutti Frutti, John Byrne’s Bafta-winning television series about a defunct Scottish rock band. From his portrayal as a cardinal in Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio to that of Falstaff in Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Coltrane was in great demand for major parts in high-profile films. But it was Coltrane’s roles in the religious comedy flicks Nuns on the Run and The Pope Must Die that really placed him on the map in the United States and made him a major man.
Coltrane’s casting as criminal psychologist “Fitz” Fitzgerald in Jimmy McGovern’s TV series Cracker, which debuted in 1993, further elevated his profile. Novel and innovative in conception, Fitzgerald was not a comedic character at all despite his many flaws as a person and professional. In 1994, 1995, and 1996, Coltrane took home the Bafta for best TV actor for his work in the role. Coltrane acknowledged to excessive drinking in the 1980s, mirroring Fitzgerald’s behaviour, and he remained notoriously confrontational, once threatening to knock up Piers Morgan in a London restaurant. In the subsequent films, GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough, he played the ethically ambiguous KGB operative Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky in both films.
Coltrane’s mid-career was marked by a steady rotation between upscale Hollywood films (such as Message in a Bottle, From Hell, and Ocean’s Twelve), and relaxed TV guest spots (Alice in Wonderland, The Gruffalo). In the 1997 show Coltrane’s Planes and Automobiles, he also got to express his passion for classic automobiles. It is reported that he only agreed to play the character of Rubeus Hagrid, the custodian of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in the film version of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novel because his children begged him to.
Coltrane’s career was revitalised, especially in Britain, after the release of the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in 2001. His portrayal as DI Hain in David Pirie’s Murderland (2009) and of a TV personality accused of sexual abuse in Channel 4’s 2016 drama National Treasure was also well received.
After the actor’s death, tributes flooded social media. His co-star on the Alfresco comedy series, Stephen Fry, recalled their initial meeting: “I first met Robbie Coltrane almost precisely 40 years ago. I felt a mixture of amazement, fear, and love.
We created our first television show, “Alfresco,” and it was so hilarious that it caused audiences to snort and honk in response. No more, old friend. It’s impossible to put into words how much we’ll miss you.
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling praised the deceased as “an tremendous talent.” Rowling commented next to a photo of the two of them, “I’ll never know someone quite like Robbie again.” “He was really unique, and I count myself extremely lucky to have known, worked with, and had many belly laughs with him.”
Star of the movie and the title character, Daniel Radcliffe recalled good times spent with Coltrane on site as he paid respect to the late musician. He reminisced about how Robbie was always making the kids on site laugh and how he was one of the funniest individuals he had ever met.
I’ll never forget how he lifted our spirits on Prisoner of Azkaban by telling stories and making jokes while we huddled for hours in Hagrid’s hut to escape the downpour.
I count myself extremely fortunate to have had the chance to meet and work with him, and deeply regretful of his passing. He was a wonderful human being in addition to being a brilliant performer.
Coltrane had “such breadth and depth as an actor, from fantastic comedy to hard-edged drama,” as Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, put it.
The actor Robert Lindsay expressed his “horror at the passing of my good buddy Robbie Coltrane.” I’ll never forget the trip to Hollywood that we took together. An another brilliant star has joined the night sky.
Although Coltrane wed artist Rhona Gemmell in 1999, the couple eventually divorced four years later. That’s right, the happy couple raised a pair of offspring. The actor has been recognised for his work in the film industry with a number of honours, including an OBE in the New Year’s honours list in 2006 and the Bafta Scotland Award for Outstanding Contribution to Film in 2011.
After a decline in film and TV appearances in his later years, he was interviewed for HBO’s Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts, when he reflected on the lasting impact of his portrayal of Hagrid.
Belinda Wright, Coltrane’s agent of 40 years, expressed gratitude to the personnel at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, near Falkirk, for their “care and diplomacy” on Friday.
She said, “Robbie had a rare talent, sharing the Guinness Book of Records’ Award for winning three consecutive Best Actor Baftas for his portrayal of Fitz in Granada TV’s series Cracker in 1994, 1995, and 1996 with Sir Michael Gambon.”
“He’ll be forever recognised as Hagrid from the Harry Potter movies. A beloved character who brought smiles to the faces of young and old alike for over 20 years and prompted a steady trickle of fan mail.
Fans of James Bond have also written to praise his work in GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough. I’ll always remember him as a dedicated client and a great performer; he was forensically astute and brilliantly humorous; and after 40 years of being honoured to call myself his agent, I’ll be sad to see him go.