14/01/2016 14:58 GMT | Updated 14/01/2017 05:12 GMT

Movie Star Alan Rickman Dies From Cancer Aged 69

Film star Alan Rickman has died aged 69 after suffering from cancer.

The much-loved British actor first shot to stardom in 1988 when he played Bruce Willis's adversary Hans Gruber in Die Hard, and he went on to gain a new generation of 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."

His death comes just days after rock star David Bowie also died from cancer at the same age - with fans expressing grief that the world has lost two significant artists in less than a week.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was one of many to pay tribute to Rickman on Twitter and to pass condolences to his wife Rima, writing: "There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman's death. He was a magnificent actor & a wonderful man.

"My thoughts are with Rima and the rest of Alan's family. We have all lost a great talent. They have lost part of their hearts."

Rickman was a respected star of stage and screen, and worked both behind and in front of the camera, with some of his work still to be released.

He has died just months ahead of a new film called Eye In The Sky in which he stars alongside Dame Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul, which is set to open in UK cinemas on April 8, according to IMDb.

The star had also completed another film set for release later this year called Alice Through The Looking Glass.

His career began on the stage after he graduated from prestigious drama school Rada, and he frequently returned to the stage throughout his career.

Hailing from a working-class London family, he supported himself as a dresser before finding work with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Rickman's CV showcases a glittering career spanning almost four decades and featuring a list of hit films from Truly Madly Deeply to Love Actually, and theatre credits including Private Lives and Antony and Cleopatra. 

He may be best known to older fans as sadistic terrorist Gruber in Die Hard from 1988, or the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves from 1991.

But younger fans probably know him best for his turn as the morally ambiguous Snape in the hugely successful Harry Potter franchise.

Rickman, who was also a film-maker, said Rowling's long-running Harry Potter series prevented him from returning to the director's chair for almost two decades.

He directed and starred as French King Louis XIV alongside Kate Winslet in A Little Chaos, and on the red carpet at the Scottish premiere of the film last February, he said he had no idea Rowling's saga would stretch to six novels and seven films when he took the role of Snape in 2001.

''I wasn't free until now because I started doing Harry Potter, and when I started there were only three books written so I didn't know I was going to be unable (to direct),'' he said.

''Because if you're going to direct a film it's over a year of your life and I didn't have that.

''So once I had finished with that series of films I was free, and then along came this wonderful script."

A Little Chaos was the star's second outing behind the camera, 18 years after he directed Emma Thompson in Scotland-based drama The Winter Guest.

Just last year he 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 recently 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."

Rickman was also viewed by many as a movie heart-throb and, striking a blow for the more mature actor, he was ranked in seventh place in a sexiest actor list by Total Film magazine in 2013 at the age of 66, beating stars such as Brad Pitt and George Clooney.

His other films include Sense And Sensibility, Michael Collins and Judas Kiss.