Endgame: Remembering Michael Gambon (1940-2023)

by André Schulz
11/8/2023 – Michael Gambon, known to many film and Harry Potter fans as Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster in the Harry Potter films, died at the end of September at the age of 82. Originally a theatre actor, Michael Gambon became interested in chess after appearing in Samuel Beckett's "Endgame" and played regularly with Jason Kouchak during a joint film project. Jason Kouchak bids farewell with a song.

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British actor Michael Gambon died on 27 September. Most people may not recognise his name, but they will recognise his face. He played the role of Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the third Harry Potter film (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) after the original actor, Richard Harris, died after a serious illness in 2002.

Michael Gambon was born in Dublin on 19 October. His path to acting was not straightforward, as he first trained as a toolmaker and then as an engineer. However, as he was interested in acting, he applied to the Edwards-Mac-Liammoir Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1963 with a false CV and was accepted. Soon afterwards he went to England, first to the Old Vic Theatre, where he joined Laurence Olivier's National Theatre Company, and from 1967 to the Birmingham Theatre. Here he recommended himself with many leading roles for other major English theatres, matured into one of the country's greatest theatre actors and received many awards for his work. He had to retire from the stage in the mid-1960s because he found it increasingly difficult to remember the lines.

Gambon's film and television career only began in the mid-1980s. He has appeared in Peter Greenaway's "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover", Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow", "Ali G in Da House", "Reunion at Brideshead", "The King's Speech", Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut "Quartet", "The Kingsman: The Golden Circle" and "Johnny English", among others. All in all, Michael Gambon has appeared in over 170 film and television productions and has never been choosy about his roles. He achieved his greatest popularity with his role as Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films.

For Dustin Hoffman's film "Quartet" (2012), based on a play by Ronald Harwood, in which four retired opera singers try to save the retirement home where they live from financial ruin by organising a musical gala, Jason Kouchak was called in as a musical consultant. They met regularly to discuss music choices at the Wolseley Restaurant in Piccadilly Circus, where there is also an old wooden chess set with Staunton figures.

Jason Kouchak at the Wolseley Restaurant | Photo: Julian Paix

Michael Gambon and Jason Kouchak discovered their shared passion for chess during their meetings and regularly played games against each other during their conversations. It transpired that Michael started playing chess as an actor when he starred "Endgame" by Samuel Beckett who was also an avid chess lover.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

As the name suggests, "Endgame" has many allusions to chess.

Dustin Hoffman, Jason Kouchak and Michael Gambon

Jason Kouchak:

"Chess and the power dynamic is clearly a subtext of Endgame "Me-to play" announces Hamm, the battered and bruised King, played by Michael Gambon. He is shuffled endlessly around the stage by Clov who as a useless pawn in the beginning aspires to reach freedom and become the true monarch progressing to the eighth rank."

Beckett saw parallels between the struggle and final stages of life in "Endgame". "Thank you Michael for the chess games and the life lessons you taught me with laughter, wisdom and always a mischievous glint in your eyes - a true King". (Jason Kouchak)

Dustin Hoffman also had a chess connection, albeit a professional one. In Sam Peckinpah's film "Straw Dogs", Hoffman as mathematician/astrophysicist David Sumner played a game of chess with his wife Amy, played by Susan George.

Many thanks to Jason Kouchak for his reports and advice!

Jason Kouchak's website...

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.