Born in 1946 in the North West London suburb of Acton, to a working class family, it was clear that Rickman had a talent for acting. 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 support his studies. Rickman went on to be a member of the acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC.)

Rickman played the macho Tybalt Capulet in the BBC Television Shakespeare production of Romeo and Juliet. Rickman joined the list of adored actors who had given outstanding performances in the role of 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 venomous 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 played 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 received high prais by critics for bringing quintessential British humor to the role of a villain.

Argued by many as one of his greatest 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 enchanting 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 returned to the stage, 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 played the dark role of Severus Snape in Hollywood'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 from the years 2002-2011.

Rickman leant his voice to Tim Burton's 2010 Disney adaptation of Lewis Caroll's Alice in Wonderland. Rickman gave a wonderfully perplexing performance as the quick-tempered, wise, pipe-smoking Absolem the Caterpillar.

In a 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 Glass, which will be released later this year.