Two days after announcing her death following “an heroic battle with cancer,” actor Damian Lewis has written a tribute to his late wife, the acclaimed actress Helen McCrory, for the U.K.’s Sunday Times. The 52-year-old Harry Potter and Peaky Blinders star was 52.
“On a weekend when the papers, rightly, will be paying their respects to the Duke of Edinburgh, thousands of others around the world have been remembering m’Duchess, my Little One, royalty in her own right,” the Homeland and Billions star, 50, wrote of his wife. The couple were married in 2007 and shared two children, daughter Manon and son Gulliver.
Though Lewis acknowledged McCrory’s formidable acting talents — which have been hailed by peers including Helen Mirren, Peaky Blinders co-star Cillian Murphy and a number of Harry Potter stars along whom she played Narcissa Malfoy — and her own love of the profession, he chose to devote his tribute to “Helen the person.”
“Helen was an even more brilliant person than she was an actress,” the Emmy winner wrote. “She was a people person, sure. ‘I’m much more interested in who I’m with than where I am,’ she would say, and innately wanted to share. But she also lived by the principle of kindness and generosity. That you put these things out into the world to make it better, to make people feel better.
“I’ve never known anyone so consciously spread happiness. To say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re so kind’ as much as she did. Even when dying in her last few days, when talking to our wonderful carers, she repeatedly said, ‘thank you so much’ in her half-delirious state.”
He continued, “She always asked people how they were, always took an interest, made each person she met feel special, as though they were the only person in the room. Gave them her full attention. Made them laugh, always. There were few funnier people — she was funny as hell.”
Cab drivers, wait staff and the nurses caring for her during her cancer treatment received special attention from his wife, according to Lewis.
“Helen would say, ‘Well, their job’s much more difficult than mine,'” he recalled her saying of nurses. “And she was dying.”
Describing McCrory as someone who believed in choosing happiness — “I’ve never known anyone able to enjoy life as much,” he shared — Lewis wrote that she remained stoic in the face of illness, which she kept out of the public eye.
“She’s left our beautiful children, Manon and Gully, too early, but they have been prepared for life,” the British star wrote. “They have in them the fearlessness, wit, curiosity, talent and beauty of their mother. She has exhorted us to be courageous and not afraid. As she said repeatedly to the children, ‘Don’t be sad, because even though I’m about to snuff it, I’ve lived the life I wanted to.’
“She has been utterly heroic in her illness. Funny, of course — generous, brave, uncomplaining, constantly reminding us all of how lucky we’ve been, how blessed we are. Her generosity has extended to encouraging us three to live. Live fully, take opportunities, have adventures. Only a couple of weeks ago she said to us from her bed, ‘I want Daddy to have girlfriends, lots of them, you must all love again, love isn’t possessive, but you know, Damian, try at least to get though the funeral without snogging someone.’
“Already I miss her. She has shone more brightly in the last months than you would imagine even the brightest star could shine. In life, too, we had to rise to meet her. But her greatest and most exquisite act of bravery and generosity has been to ‘normalize’ her death. She’s shown no fear, no bitterness, no self-pity, only armed us with the courage to go on and insisted that no one be sad, because she is happy. I’m staggered by her. She’s been a meteor in our life.”
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