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How Alan Rickman Taught Me to Cry

As you no doubt know by now, British actor Alan Rickman passed away this past Thursday. I'm a longstanding fan, and the news hit a lot of us hard.

My response below was not originally written to be shared—it's one of the most personal things I've ever written—but two friends encouraged me to give it an audience, so here it is.

For a long time, I couldn't cry.

I wanted to. I would be sad about the end of camp or a funeral or graduating from college and not seeing most of my friends again and all the things that bring out the tears in people. I could feel them, sitting about an inch behind my eyes, wanting to get out. But they wouldn't come. I would be disappointed and then relieved whenever the sad thing ended so I didn't have to wonder what was wrong with me because I couldn't cry like everyone else.

Alan_Rickman_after_Seminar_(3)Then, one night back around 1995, I rented a little movie called Truly Madly Deeply while I was housesitting for my parents. I remembered Alan Rickman from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (I had no idea who Juliet Stevenson was), and was curious about this movie from around the same time. I put it on and sat down and watched this movie with no real expectations. And at the very end, I lost it.

I mean, I lost it. (My bet: anyone who's seen it will know exactly when it hit me.) Every tear I hadn't been able to cry for at least ten years came rushing out. I ended up on the floor in front of the TV watching the credits roll. My dog looked at me as if I'd grown an extra head. When the credits finished, I wasn't, and the sudden silence was infuriating, because dammit, I needed a Bach soundtrack for the torrent that was flooding out of me.

I finally pulled myself together, started to breathe, and picked myself up off the floor. Rewound the movie, took it out of the VCR, the little black rectangle that had somehow performed this unexpected miracle on me (made all the stranger by the surreal blurb on the label that said, "Recommend this romantic comedy to friends!" as if it belonged to a completely different film than what I had just watched).

2016-01-17 10.59.14As soon as I could, I bought myself a copy on VHS. When it came out on DVD, I didn't even have to think about it. To this day, I will not watch it with anyone else (don't even ask. Not gonna happen). To this day, it makes me cry like a baby—though now it often starts by That Scene in the horrible shrink's office and barely lets up for the rest of the film. It's a sacred cleansing ritual as much as it is a cinematic experience.

People have watched it and told me it didn't make them cry, or worse, they couldn't see why it would. It's all I can do not to say, "Then you just didn't understand. Sorry."

The floodgates, once opened, have stayed that way. (I've been known to tear up at Kleenex ads.) They opened again this week when Alan Rickman left us, leaving me feeling like a piece of my heart went with him.

I went on to follow his career and even saw him on Broadway three times (once in Seminar and twice in the effervescent Private Lives). But this is the film that remains closest to my heart. When I met Juliet Stevenson in 2006, there was only one thing I wanted to say to her, and I did: "Thank you for Truly Madly Deeply." It's what I would have said to Alan Rickman, too, if I'd had the chance.

"Alan Rickman after Seminar (3)" by Marie-Lan Nguyen. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Also published on Medium.


  • A moving tribute. The power of film (and great performances!) in how they stir us is part of what makes this art form both so universal and so personal at the same time. This is so beautifully written from the heart,  and I can well imagine your gratitude being whispered on angel wings and making this legendary actor smile!  Bravo. 

  • Rachel says:

    Thank you for helping me understand a little better.

  • Maggie Beaumont says:

    Thanks for this — and especially, thanks for sharing this.


    My own 'open the floodgates' experience wasn't a movie, but I recall deeply the experience of getting to cry all the tears that had been stuck inside me. Many Blessings to you for continual re-emptying of that well.

  • Marti Beddoe says:

    Very dear Nancy,

    Thank you for this post!  It must have been in the same time frame, that I shared the same cathartic response to Truly, Deeply, Madly–sobbing that could not stop, eyes sore from salty tears, gratitude for such a perfect slice of life story, and that Rickman voice vibrating through my body.  I too return to it, ritually, when there is a deep loss.  This week with Seena Frost's transition, I will revisit the movie when alone with a new big box of soft tissues.

    Though an Olympian weeper since childhood, few movies can take me where TDM and Mr. Rickman has.  Thank you for your loving tribute and, as always, your eloquence and perceptive wisdom, Nancy.

    Fondly, Marti.

    • Nancy Norbeck says:

      Marti, it’s so nice to know there are plenty of other people who react to TMD the way I do. It really is a remarkable little film in so many ways.

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