Helen McCrory, the “beautiful and mighty” British actress known for playing steely female characters on stage and screen, has died of cancer at the age of 52, her husband, Damian Lewis, said on Friday.

“I’m heartbroken to announce that after a heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family,” said the Homeland actor.

“She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God, we loved 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.”


The shock announcement drew tributes from author JK Rowling, fellow actors including Michael Sheen and from the artistic director at London’s National Theatre who hailed McCrory as “unquestionably one of the great actors of her generation”.

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Born in London to a Welsh mother and Scottish-born father, McCrory spent a year in Italy before studying acting at the Drama Centre. Her film roles included portraying Cherie Blair – wife of former prime minister Tony Blair – in Peter Morgan’s The Queen and The Special Relationship in 2006 and 2010 respectively. She also played Narcissa Malfoy – mother of Draco Malfoy – in the final three films in the Harry Potter franchise and appeared in the James Bond film Skyfall.

On television, she had a leading role as the Shelbys’ matriarch Polly Gray in Peaky Blinders. The BBC show began filming the sixth series this year, expected to air later in 2021, with McCrory understood to have reprised her role.

Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy described McCrory as a compassionate friend and fearless actor.

“I am broken-hearted to lose such a dear friend,” Murphy said in a statement. “Helen was a beautiful, caring, funny, compassionate human being. She was also a gifted actor — fearless and magnificent. She elevated and made humane every scene, every character she played. It was a privilege to have worked with this brilliant woman, to have shared so many laughs over the years. I will dearly miss my pal. My love and thoughts are with Damian and her family.”

The couple, who had two young children, married in 2007. They had recently raised over one million pounds to give health workers restaurant meals during the pandemic.