Helen McCrory, known for playing Aunt Polly on Peaky Blinders and Narcissa Malfoy in a trio of Harry Potter films, passed away “peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family,” according to the Apr. 16 statement from her husband, Damian Lewis. The actress was 52 and died after a battle with cancer. The news was greeted by sadness by Helen’s Harry Potter co-stars, who grieved her loss and celebrated her life with tributes posted online.
Tom Felton, who portrayed Draco Malfoy, the son of her character Narcissa, paid tribute to her on Instagram. “So sad to say farewell so suddenly – I never took the chance to tell her , but she helped shape me as a person so much – on & off screen,” he captioned his IG photo, which showed the pair in a scene from the movie. “She was always relentlessly herself- razor sharp wit – silver tongued – kind & warm hearted – she suffered no fools yet had time for everyone – thank you for lighting the way forward & holding my hand when I needed it xx.”
In the Harry Potter films, Helen starred opposite Jason Isaacs, who played a pivotal role as her husband Lucius Malfoy. “As continually starstruck as I was on the Harry Potter films, being screen-married to and giggle with the great Helen McCrory will always be a highlight,” Jason wrote in a lengthy IG statement. “Her proudest achievement, though, was building and loving the family that was her bedrock. They’ve lost so much and I send all my love to Damian and the kids. xxx.”
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. Simply heartbreaking news.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) April 16, 2021
The creator of the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling, shared her grief shortly after Damian’s tweet. “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. Simply heartbreaking news.”
Damian wrote in his statement that she passed away after a battle with cancer. “I’m heartbroken to announce that after an heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died,” wrote Damian in his statement. “She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God, we love 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.”
Potterheads will remember Helen for playing the mother of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2. However, her resume is marked with noted roles and incredible performances. She was Madame Kali on Penny Dreadful, Emma Banville in the 2017 mini-series Fearless, and Aunt Polly in Peaky Blinders. The latter is considered her most celebrated role, and it’s one she almost turned down.
“When they first approached me, they said: ‘Would you like to play Aunt Polly in this gangster drama set in Birmingham?” And I was like: ‘No,’” she told Idler in 2019. “I looked at the history of that time and the slums of Birmingham. My own grandparents grew up in the slums of Glasgow and were miners’ kids in Cardiff, and I thought was going to be there with a mangle saying things like: ‘Gotta get up early to get the wash on in the backyard.’”
After writer Steve Knight assured her that they weren’t going to do an “apologetic drama we are so good at doing in Britain,” she agreed to the role. “It’s really shaped television writing. Still now, you’ll see it constantly and how it’s influenced the writers of today. But nobody was doing what Steve was doing, which was making these people heroes. Also, with the idea that it’s man against everything around him, which is, of course, perfect for how men felt coming back from World War I. Suddenly God was dead, and government was dead, and people were in a sort of Wild West situation, there was that feeling of isolation.”
Helen and Damian were married in 2007. They had two children together – a daughter, Manon, and a son, Gulliver. “Children teach you that time is elastic and that actually just slowing down gives you more time, weirdly,” she told Idler. “If you have a diary that’s just constantly full of stuff, you might be really missing out on the important stuff.”