Helen McCrory: Peaky Blinders actress dies aged 52, husband Damian Lewis says

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Helen McCrory: Peaky Blinders actress dies aged 52, husband Damian Lewis says

Helen McCrory: The BBC’s David Sillito looks back on her life and career

Actress Helen McCrory, known for her roles in Peaky Blinders and three Harry Potter films, has died of cancer at the age of 52, her husband, the actor Damian Lewis, announced.

He said he was “heartbroken”, and that she was a “beautiful and mighty woman”.

He wrote: “She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you.”

Harry Potter author JK Rowling led the tributes, writing that it was “simply heartbreaking news”.


McCrory was also known for her long and acclaimed career on stage, and the National Theatre’s artistic director Rufus Norris said she was “unquestionably one of the great actors of her generation”.

Video caption,
Helen McCrory starred as Aunt Polly in all five series of Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight said: “Helen was one of the great actors of her generation. She was so powerful and controlled and this is so sad.”

Cillian Murphy, who played Tommy Shelby in the show, added he was “broken-hearted to lose such a dear friend”, describing her as “a beautiful, caring, funny, compassionate human being”.

“She was also a gifted actor – fearless and magnificent. She elevated and made humane every scene, every character she played,” he said, adding it was “a privilege to have worked with this brilliant woman… I will dearly miss my pal”.

BBC director of drama Piers Wenger added: “Helen was one of the finest actresses this country will ever see.”

Homeland star Lewis said she had died “after an heroic battle with cancer”.

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“The beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from family and friends,” he said.

“She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God we love her and we know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives.”

Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory
Image caption,
Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory married in 2007

McCrory married Homeland star Lewis in 2007 and they had two children. Last year, the couple raised more than £1m to provide NHS workers with meals from high street restaurants during the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.

TV stars raise nearly £1m to feed NHS workers
In pictures: Helen McCrory’s acting career
Comedian Matt Lucas, who worked with them on the FeedNHS campaign, tweeted that she “will be remembered not just for her remarkable stage and screen performances, but also for her selflessness and generosity”.

In April 2020, McCrory and Lewis appeared on the BBC’s Newscast and she explained why they set up FeedNHS.

“We’ve got lots of friends in the NHS and when this outbreak happened, they said one of the big problems they had was all the cafes and restaurants around the hospitals were closing. And the hours they were doing were longer and longer, and they weren’t able to get food.

“We decided we wanted to try and get food to these people working such long hours and weren’t able to.”

The couple also appeared just weeks ago on Good Morning Britain, to talk about charity work for the Prince’s Trust.


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In her tribute, Rowling wrote: “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.”

Helen McCrory as Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2011)
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With Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy (left) and Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

McCrory played Narcissa Malfoy, the wife of Lucius Malfoy and Draco’s mother, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2.

The actress was perhaps best known for playing Aunt Polly, the matriarch of the Shelby clan, in all five series of hit BBC period gang drama Peaky Blinders from its start in 2013.

“She really is the brains with Tommy behind the family, and you see the difference of how to rule,” she said when speaking about 2014’s second series.

In his tribute, the BBC’s Piers Wenger said: “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.”

Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair in The Queen (2006)
Image caption,
She played Cherie Blair in 2006 film The Queen

Her other screen roles included the MP Clair Dowar in 2012 James Bond movie Skyfall, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie in the films The Queen and The Special Relationship.

She provided the voice of Stelmaria, Lord Asriel’s snow leopard daemon, in the recent BBC One TV series His Dark Materials, and the show’s Twitter account called her “uniquely talented”.

Bafta, the British film and TV academy, wrote: “We’re sad to hear of the death of actor Helen McCrory. As well as fearless Polly Gray in Bafta-winning Peaky Blinders, she was in 2007 Best Film Bafta winner The Queen, amongst many other films and TV shows.”

BBC One series Doctor Who also paid tribute to the actress, who appeared in 2010 episode The Vampires of Venice.


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