raising hell | 

Richard Harris was targeted by loyalist paramilitaries for ‘IRA support’, author reveals

The terror groups issued death threats while Harris appeared in a West End production of Camelot in 1982.

Richard SullivanSunday World

Hollywood hellraiser Richard Harris was repeatedly targeted by loyalist paramilitaries because of his alleged support for the IRA.

Limerick man Harris, one of Tinseltown’s brightest stars, was a proud Irish republican but his perceived support for the armed struggle landed him in hot water.

Harris, who died in 2003, tells the story in his own words in a newly published biography, Raising Hell And Reaching For Heaven, by Dublin journalist Joe Jackson.

The book details his startling life, recalled in hundreds of hours of interviews carried out between 1987 and 2001 in a time when the men became close friends.

The results is a no holds barred, warts and all account of the life of one of the most colourful characters ever to grace the silver screen.

Harris was famous for Mutiny On The Bounty with Marlon Brando, This Sporting Life, Unforgiven and in more recent times Harry Potter, and of course his defining performance in The Field.

Harris 1987 interview with Joe Jackson

Harris told his friend that he wanted him to write the true story of his life.

“If you look at all the interviews Richard did over the years, they are the same 10 stories,” said Jackson.

“He lived out the image of the boozy, womanising Irish brawler. There was far more to him than that, he was talented and respected poet, a deep thinker, and yes many, many flaws.

“The Richard Harris painted in the British media was not the man I knew.”

He said the star was naive in his support for Noraid, the US-based organisation that raised millions of dollars for the cause, a significant proportion of which ended up in the coffers of the IRA.

In the book the actor makes no apologies for Irish republicanism but insists he was no supporter of violence.

“I am a republican. I believe in a united Ireland. I also believe that violence was forced upon the Irish. Go back to the history of the old Provisional IRA, and you see that this is true.

Richard Harris Actor With his 1st wife Elizabeth Rees-Williams Picture: Universal Pictorial Press London Date: 1988

“There is no question that violence perpetrated by the Brits led to the creation of the Provisional IRA. They are the result of British tyranny and British violence. But I do not approve, and I cannot approve, of the IRA taking the battle into the private sector.

“I cannot approve of them blowing up, for example, Harrods. I just can’t. Though one wants to achieve a united Ireland – if that’s what everybody wants, and whether they do or don’t, I want it, and those who don’t will have to accept it when it comes – but I cannot condone violence.”

He admitted to being a big supporter of Noraid in the misguided belief the monies raised were for Catholic and Protestant families disadvantaged by the conflict.

Loyalist groups issued death threats while Harris appeared in a West End production of Camelot in 1982.

Ironically, he later claimed to have been on the end of death threats from the IRA – denied by them – after he publically called for people not to donate money for IRA arms.

“He had a romantic view shaped from afar, he didn’t realise what Noraid was,” said Jackson.

“He was politically naive, he lived in the darkness in that respect, he would visit Ireland occasionally but how could he know what was really going on?”

The author and playwright said he built a close relationship with the star after he approached him for a interview in 1987.

Over more than 50 years, “and many drinking sessions’’, Harris revealed the details of his life – the womanising, his close friendships with Frank Sinatra, partying with the notorious Rat Pack of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr and Peter Lawford.

“It didn’t stop him sleeping with Mia Farrow while she was still married to Sinatra,” Jackson said. The book recalls Harris being with Farrow on a visit to London while Frank was away filming.

“Frank called Mia while Richard was there, it genuinely frightened him, with Sinatra’s connections this was the sort of thing that got you a pair of concrete shoes at the bottom of the Thames.”

Libido

Farrow innocently told her husband Harris had called.

“Sinatra asked to speak him and he told Richard ‘make sure you look after Mia’.”

There were other affairs with the likes of another Hollywood legend Ava Gardner. Harris had a huge sexual appetite.

“He was at it right to his final days, I called him up to see if I could call with him, he was 70 at the time and bearing in mind he died at 72, he said ‘that’s fine but give me an hour, I have to get rid of someone’.

“His libido never waned, the most promiscuous man on the planet.”

Jackson said he believed his friend would be happy with the book.

“He was the quintessential Irishman, so many people, even his family, didn’t get the depth of his Irishness – all the good and bad that comes with it.”

nRaising Hell And Reaching For Heaven is published by Merrion, price £22.99.


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