Peaky Blinders, Harry Potter actor Helen McCrory dead at 52

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Actor Helen McCrory has died after a battle with cancer, her husband, Damian Lewis, announced on Friday. She was 52.  ( Jeff Spicer/Getty Images - image credit)
Actor Helen McCrory has died after a battle with cancer, her husband, Damian Lewis, announced on Friday. She was 52. ( Jeff Spicer/Getty Images - image credit)

Britain's Helen McCrory, who starred in Harry Potter films and the Peaky Blinders television series, has died after a battle with cancer, her husband, actor Damian Lewis, said on Twitter on Friday. She was 52.

"I'm heartbroken to announce that after an 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," Lewis said.

"She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God we loved 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."

Acting career began on stage

McCrory played Polly Gray, the matriarch of a crime family on Peaky Blinders, taking a starring role in all five seasons thus far.

The show's official Twitter account posted a tribute to the actor and her time as Polly soon after news of her death broke.

Cillian Murphy, who plays the central role of gangland boss Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders, set in the early 20th-century English underworld, said he was "broken-hearted to lose such a dear friend."

"Helen was a beautiful, caring, funny, compassionate human being," he said in a statement. "She was also a gifted actor — fearless and magnificent.

"She elevated and made humane every scene, every character she played. It was a privilege to have worked with this brilliant woman, to have shared so many laughs over the years. I will dearly miss my pal. My love and thoughts are with Damian and her family."

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling also took to Twitter to pay respects, calling McCrory "an extraordinary actress and a wonderful woman who's left us far too soon."

McCrory portrayed the scheming Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies — with her last appearance in the series' final entry Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. She also appeared in Martin Scorsese's Hugo, James Bond movie Skyfall, and the TV series His Dark Materials last year.

Earlier in 2000, McCrory starred in a Channel 4 adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. In an article for the British newspaper the Guardian, McCrory wrote about the play and how the main character's journey reflected modern life as a woman.

"How should a woman live her life? By the end of the story, Anna's choice is to return to her husband, disgraced, and live a lie, or to say: 'I did it, I've lived and that's enough,' McCrory wrote. "She jumps, not from something but to something. There is no defeat. It's wonderful to see a woman playing the heroine."

McCrory performs as Yelena in the play Uncle Vanya at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Harvey Theater on Jan. 16, 2003, in New York City.
McCrory performs as Yelena in the play Uncle Vanya at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Harvey Theater on Jan. 16, 2003, in New York City.(Matthew Peyton/Getty Images)

McCrory was born in 1968 in London to Welsh and Scottish parents Anne and Iain McCrory.

Though she saw great success on the screen, McCrory's career first took off from the stage.

She was a regular in U.K. theatre, and made a name for herself playing Rose Trelawny in Trelawny of 'Wells' in 1993, and Lady Macbeth in the 1995 West End production of the Shakespearean tragedy.

She later received three awards, including a London Evening Standard award, for her portrayal of Yelena in Uncle Vanya, and was nominated for an Olivier award for her performance in As You Like It.

McCrory poses with husband Damian Lewis after she was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on Nov. 7, 2017 in London, England.
McCrory poses with husband Damian Lewis after she was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on Nov. 7, 2017 in London, England.( Steve Parsons/Getty Images)

Though she had roles as far back as the early '90s — her first was in Interview with the Vampire with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise — her film career took off in 2006. That year, she earned a best supporting actress nomination from the London Critics' Circle for her work in The Queen.

McCrory married Damian Lewis the following year, and they had a daughter together.

She had been slated to play the villainous Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoneix, but was forced to pull out due to her pregnancy. She was later cast as Bellatrix's sister, Narcissa Malfoy.

Meaty roles

McCrory and Lewis had a second child in 2008, and in a 2018 interview, Lewis said they made the "difficult" decision to continue working while their children were young.

McCrory's commitment to work seemed to pay off. While many performers struggle to find meaty female roles in film and television, she played a string of them.

"Having said that, there are a lot of things I turn down," she told The Associated Press in 2016, describing the sort of roles where "all your lines are 'But what did you do at work?' 'That's so clever, darling.' 'How did you do that?' 'And then what did you do?' "

"Of course, there's so much sexism within the profession," McCrory said. "But I think you approach it in different ways, and my approach is just to forge forward."