Michael Gambon Retiring From Theater Acting Due to Memory Loss

Michael Gambon
British actor Michael Gambon -- who played Dumbledore in the final six Harry Potter films -- is ending his long theater career due to problems with memory loss, he told the UK's Sunday Times Eamonn McCormack/WireImage

There will be no more encores for Michael Gambon. The veteran British actor, best known for taking over the role of Dumbledore in the final six movies of the Harry Potter franchise, is retiring from stage acting due to memory loss, he revealed to the UK's Sunday Times in an interview published Sunday, Feb. 8.

"It's a horrible thing to admit, but I can't do it," Gambon, 74, told the paper. "It breaks my heart."

The actor's long-term memory is intact, he explained, but he has a hard time learning and retaining new information — which makes roles with "lots of words" difficult to play. (According to the Sunday Times, he had to be taken to the hospital twice in 2009 because of "panic attacks after his lines escaped him.") 

"It's when the script's in front of me and it takes me forever to learn it," he said. "It's frightening."

Gambon has tried to find ways around his memory problems, but to no avail. Six months ago, the Times reports, he experimented with having someone feed him his lines through a tiny earpiece.

"There was a girl in the wings and I had a plug in my ear so she could read me the lines," he said of the rehearsal. "And after about an hour I thought, 'This can't work.' You can't be in theater, free on the stage, shouting and screaming and running around, with someone reading you your lines."

Gambon doesn't want to quit acting altogether — "You've got to go to work, haven't you?" he asked the Times — but he's always been more at home onstage than on-screen, despite his charming performance as Dumbledore opposite Daniel Radcliffe.(He took over the role in the third film after Richard Harris, who played the part in the first two movies, died in 2002.)

Michael Gambon as Dumbledore
British actor Michael Gambon — who played Dumbledore in the final six Harry Potter films — is ending his long theater career due to problems with memory loss, he told the UK's Sunday Times Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.

"Theater's the only place for me to be," he shared. "When the curtain goes up, on you come. No one's stopping you. No one can shout 'cut.' There's a thousand people sitting that and they can see you moving, all over. They watch every part — how you walk, how you stand. The way you sit. The way you look at people."

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