Born in 1946 in Acton, in the North West London borough of Ealing, to a working class family, it was clear that Rickman was made for the stage. After graduating from Royal College of Art, he auditioned for Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) where he studied from 1972-1974. As he studied Shakespeare, Rickman worked as a dresser for Sir Nigel Hawthorne and Sir Ralph Richardson, in order to fund his studies. Rickman went on to be a member of the esteemed Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC.)

Rickman played the aggressive Tybalt Capulet in the BBC Television Shakespeare production of Romeo and Juliet. Rickman joined the list of admired actors who had given superb performances as Tybalt before him, including Orson Welles in the 1934–1935 Broadway debut and Michael York in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film version.

He played the seductive and vengeful Vicomte de Valmont in a 1985 television production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) Pierre Choderlos de Laclos epistolary novel, which was first published 1782. His performance saw him awarded both a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award nomination.

In 1991, Rickman took on the role of the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham alongside Kevin Costner's Robin Hood in the Hollywood production of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Rickman was praised by critics for bringing quintessential British humour to the role of a villain.

Hailed as one of his best roles, Rickman played Colonel Brandon alongside Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant in the 1995 film version of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.

The beautiful film, for which the screenplay was written in 5 years by Emma Thompson, saw Rickman portray Colonel Brandon as the warm and subtle older gentleman who falls for the charm of Marianne, played by Kate Winslet.

In 1998, Rickman took to the stage again, to play Anthony alongside Dame Helen Mirren's Cleopatra at the Olivier Theatre for the production of Anthony and Cleopatra.

Rickman's acting was introduced to a new generation when he took on the dark role of Severus Snape in the silver screen's version of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. First playing Snape in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Rickman revised the role in 2002, 2004, 2005, 200, 2009, 2010 and finally, in 2011.

Rickman leant his talents of voice-acting to Tim Burton's 2010 Disney adaptation of Lewis Caroll's Alice in WonderlandRickman gave a wonderfully confusing performance as the hot-headed, wise, pipe-smoking Absolem the Caterpillar.

In a fitting tribute to his life's work, which saw him play so many beloved characters from English Literature, Rickman's final role, was of Absolem in Tim Burton's Alice Through the Looking Glasswhich will be released later this year.