Alan Rickman was born on a council estate in Acton, West London, to Margaret Doreen Rose (Bartlett) and Bernard Rickman, who worked at a factory. He had English, Irish, and Welsh ancestry. Alan had an older brother David, a younger brother Michael and a younger sister Sheila. When Alan was 8 years old, his father died. He attended Latymer Upper School on a scholarship. He studied Graphic Design at Chelsea College of Art and Design, where he met Rima Horton, who would later become his life partner. After three years at Chelsea College, Rickman did graduate studies at the Royal College of Art. He opened a successful graphics design business, Graphiti, with friends and ran it for several years before his love of theatre led him to seek an audition with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). At the relatively late age of 26, Rickman received a scholarship to RADA, which started a professional acting career that has lasted nearly 40 years, a career which has spanned stage, screen and television and lapped over into directing, as well. Rickman first came to the attention of American audiences as "Vicomte de Valmont" in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" on Broadway in 1987 (he was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in the role). Denied the role in the film version of the show, Rickman instead made his first movie appearance opposite Bruce Willis in Trappola di cristallo (1988) as the villain, "Hans Gruber". Rickman's take on the urbane villain set the standard for screen villains for decades to come. Though often cited as being a master of playing villains, Rickman actually played a wide variety of characters, such as the romantic cello-playing ghost "Jamie" in Anthony Minghella's Il fantasma innamorato (1990) and the noble "Colonel Brandon" of Ragione e sentimento (1995). He treated audiences to his comedic abilities with films like Dogma (1999), Galaxy Quest (1999) and Guida galattica per autostoppisti (2005), and roles like "Dr. Alfred Blalock" in Medici per la vita (2004) and "Alex Hughes" in Snow Cake (2006), showcase his ability to play ordinary men in extraordinary situations. Rickman even conquered the daunting task of singing a part in a Stephen Sondheim musical as he took on the part of "Judge Turpin" in the movie adaptation of Sweeney Todd - Il diabolico barbiere di Fleet Street (2007). In 2001, Rickman introduced himself to a whole new, and younger, generation of fans by taking on the role of "Severus Snape" in the movie versions of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter e la pietra filosofale (2001). He continued to play the role through the eighth and last movie Harry Potter e i Doni della Morte - Parte 2 (2011).