Damian Lewis pays tribute to Helen McCrory, his late wife of nearly 14 years

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The actress Helen McCrory passed away on Friday after a years-long battle with cancer. Very few people knew about McCrory’s battle beyond her family and close friends, which makes it feel like her passing happened very suddenly and out of nowhere. Helen was devoted to the theater, long after her husband Damian Lewis went all-in on film and television work, primarily in America. They managed to raise two children in the UK and America, splitting their time between work and family. Helen was 52 years old, and she and Damian had been married for nearly 14 years. Their children, Manon and Gulliver, are 14 and 13 respectively. Damian wrote a lengthy, emotional tribute to his wife this weekend:

“As I sit down to write this, I can hear Helen shouting from the bed, ‘Keep it short, Damian, it’s not about you’,” Lewis wrote in a new tribute shared by The Times. “I’ll try, but 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. And I’d like to throw in my tuppence worth…”

“She was fiercely proud of being an artist, an actress. Her OBE, recognition of her exquisite talent, made her so happy. Her craft was something she approached with a rigour, an honesty, an intelligence that made others rise to meet her, but she never imposed herself, because she loved collaboration, whether that was in film, TV or theatre. But as she said to me a few weeks ago, ‘Doing theatre is what made my heart sing.’ Many people have spoken about her career and many more will, so that’s where I’ll leave it, because it strikes me that two things are happening this weekend: an outpouring of grief and shock, and a celebration of Helen McCrory the actress from fans everywhere, and of Helen the person. And that’s who I want to talk about.

“Helen was an even more brilliant person than she was an actress. 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.”

“One nurse at the Royal Marsden told me once they actually looked forward to Helen coming in because she made their day better. Asked how they were, cared about their home lives, spread joy, made them laugh. Helen would say, ‘Well, their job’s much more difficult than mine.’ And she was dying. She understood anger, used to tell the children not to be afraid of it. “It’s a positive emotion when you use it right.” And she had her fair share of it, let me tell you. She could be magnificently angry, imperious, dismissive. Gloriously. But also happy. Always. Some people believe happiness is a right, some people find happiness difficult. It’s an elusive emotion. Helen believed you choose happiness.

“I’ve never known anyone able to enjoy life as much. Her ability to be in the present and enjoy the moment was inspirational. Nor was she interested in navel-gazing. No real interest in self- reflection; she believed in looking out, not in. Which is why she was able to turn her light so brightly on others.”

“She’s left our beautiful children, Manon and Gully, too early, but they have been prepared for life. 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 through 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 “normalise” 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.”

[From NME]

This made me cry. I never really paid much attention to their marriage, but it sounds like he utterly adored her, as did everyone who came in contact with her. The grief and memories just came pouring out of him and he sounds so raw. And now he has to raise their two children without her. It’s heartbreaking.

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42 Responses to “Damian Lewis pays tribute to Helen McCrory, his late wife of nearly 14 years”

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  1. Snazzy says:

    I love them both as actors individually and had no idea they were married until I read about this over the weekend. His tribute was just heart-felt and beautiful – such a gift to have known such a great love, and such a void when it’s lost.

    • Bettyrose says:

      Same! I really had no idea. And I wish I had because now I love them as a couple. His tribute to her seems truly honest and loving and yet playful.

  2. mrs.no says:

    I am still devastated. They always looked happy and content with each other, to the point that I thought they were faking the ‘madly in love’ thing, but it never stopped, and I was so happy and impressed by that.
    And yeah, I really admired her craft, but her presence is what made her special, I think. She always seemed to shine, just like he said. My thoughts are with the kids…I almost lost my mom to cancer at that age, and I really hope they find comfort all together.

    • Maxime duCamp says:

      mrs.no, I’m sorry for your loss. I lost my mother to cancer when I was seven and as much as I would’ve loved a few extra years with her, I’ve come to believe that losing a close parent during one’s teens through early 20s has to be the worst for a variety of reasons. As one parent recently put it, it’s the age when they start to think that they don’t need you that they actually need you the most.

      I hope that her memory brings her children and Damien comfort.

      • CuriousCole says:

        I’m so sorry for your losses, Mrs. No and Maxime. I lost my dad unexpectedly to cancer when I was 16 and it is bittersweet because I felt I was about to start learning a LOT of things from him. I’m not sure there’s a good age to lose one’s parent (s), although making it to your teens at least means you might have more memories.

  3. Granger says:

    She’s amazing in Peaky Blinders. AMAZING. Absolutely the one main reason I’ve stuck with that show through five seasons.

    What a beautiful message from her husband, and how sad it is that she is gone too soon.

    • SarahCS says:

      I’ve only seen one episode and I didn’t know who she was but she absolutely stood out as the star of the show to me.

    • Mathilde says:

      She and Cillian Murphy are both amazing and absolutely make that show. So very sad. RIP Polly.

  4. Hell Nah! says:

    A very touching tribute to a wife and mother well-loved. May she rest in peace.

    I wish all good memories and strength to find their way through grief for him and their children.

  5. Mia4s says:

    Well that was my Monday morning cry. What a beautiful tribute, she sounds amazing. And the fact that she talked to the children about wanting their Dad to love again? God, what a gift and what grace. I wish Damian and the kids so much peace and love in the days ahead.

  6. Lightpurple says:

    What a lovely, intimate tribute to a brilliant actress and apparently, a delightful, vivacious woman. As was his brief announcement of her death. My sympathies to the family and their friends. Aunt Polly will be sorely missed.

  7. Chartreuse says:

    He wrote such a wonderful tribute. She’s an amazing actress. I did know they were married and wish the family peace at this time.

  8. Case says:

    What a lovely tribute. I had no idea they were married, but they seemed very happy. Wishing him and his children the best.

  9. sunny says:

    I am wishing all the best to Damian, his children and the rest of her family after this heartbreaking loss. It is clear that there was much joy and love in their marriage and home.

    What a loss this is for the theatre world. She was an incredible stage actress. Recently I started subscribing to the national theatre at home’s streaming service and like 3 weeks ago I watched the production of Medea she was in. She was absolutely staggering. How terrible to lose such an artist.

    • Florence says:

      Her performance, especially carrying the bodies of the boys over her shoulders like some awful avenging angel, reduced me to deep gasping sobs. Truly magical.

  10. FHMom says:

    I did not need a cry this morning. I’m so very sorry for the loss of his wife and his children’s mother. This was a very touching tribute.

  11. Florence says:

    Sorry in advance for gushing.

    God I just love her. Her grace, intelligence, power, talent, beauty – if I’d ever been fortunate enough to meet her I would have just become incoherent. I adore her and can only imagine how keenly Damian and their children feel her loss. I cried on finding out the news and I cried at the tributes from Damian and from Sam Mendes.

    One of my favourite actresses forever. The greatest Medea and the most beautiful Hester. RIP Helen, the performances you’ll never give are a loss to the acting world.

    • Emm says:

      I feel everything here. This tribute was so beautiful. Loved her so much. Everything she touched, gold. Why do such angels have to leave us so soon? It just makes me so angry to think of all of those awful people that will live for decades more and inflict more pain on the world, I think you all know who I speak of. This world is in desperate need of more people like Helen. I pray for comfort for Damian and the children.

  12. Paperleaf says:

    RIP to Helen; she was a wonderful actress in many films. Best wishes to their kids and to Damian.

  13. Léna says:

    I never cried about a celebrity’s death, I don’t know why, it always seems so far away. But what Damian wrote crushed me. It was beautiful, I cried. I’ll miss her in Peaky Blinders, easily the best character!

  14. Trix says:

    The first time I remember seeing Helen McCrory on screen she was magnificent. She played a villain in a Doctor Who episode and she fiercely chewed the scenery while wearing the most fabulous period costume in “The Vampires of Venice.” Trust, you don’t really know what’s coming even with that title. But, she owned that character and so I was disappointed we never saw her again in that universe. Or if we did, I never saw a follow up.

    She’s always been a favorite to see pop up on screen since then. She had a light that shouldn’t have burned out so quickly. My heart breaks for her family. Damian’s tribute sounds like she was everything you would hope a person to be.

  15. Killfanora says:

    So heartfelt, so loving, so sincere in its simple but powerful love.

  16. Cyd says:

    This is so heart wrenching. She was a favorite of mine. Damian is lovely as well but Helen was spectacular. I feel for him having lost my husband 2 years ago to cancer. I now raise our 15 year old as a single mum. The hole she leaves is unfathomable for her children but it sounds like they have a lot of her spirit in them and the love and support of a wonderful father to comfort them. Healing thoughts to them all.

  17. Lucy says:

    Such a lovely and heartbreaking tribute. She seemed like a great woman, Helen. I always found there was something about her eyes. They looked wise and warm and a even a little humorous. I admit I chuckled a bit at her telling him “it’s not about you”.

  18. ABritGuest says:

    What a gorgeous tribute. Really liked them as a couple and their work feeding NHS workers recently. May she RIP

  19. Kath says:

    I will always like Damian Lewis because of Band of Brothers. I loved his character.
    This is so sad yet so beautiful too, you can tell they really loved each other and she seems like an amazing person to be around.
    I loved her on Peaky Blinders and thought she was brilliant.

  20. Bella says:

    What a beautiful tribute. She was amazing in Peaky Blinders, but she sounds that not only was she a great artist, but a great person too!

  21. abby says:

    They really did seem to be incredibly happy in love. There is a clip of them on Good Morning Britain just weeks ago promoting their charity, where the anchor asked her if she had a sore throat because she sounded croaky. Gah, now of course we know it was much more than a sore throat, but oh, how he looks at her. It’s heartbreaking.

  22. Scal says:

    What I really noticed and appreciated is all the comments from colleagues and the media are really focused on her career and talent. So often you see it turn into “the wife of so and so” as if a woman is only connected to her husband’s fame.

    Everything I saw was about how she was a wonderful talent and a wonderful person. And I think that was reflected through the tv/film/theater outwards. It’s so sad sshe’s gone.

  23. Maxime duCamp says:

    This news was absolutely devastating but Damien’s tribute was also inspiring. Helen seemingly lived her life doing what she loved, was incredibly gifted at it, and received well-deserved accolades during her all too brief lifetime. She was married to someone whom she adored her who adored her right back and they had two lovely children. She packed a lot of wonderful life experiences into her relatively short life and I hope that brings some degree of comfort to her family.

    I need to sign up for NT Live to see her Medea. I sadly never got to see Helen McCrory live on stage but I did see Diana Rigg’s Medea in the mid-1990s and that performance was mesmerizing and responsible for my love of theater. Everything that I’ve heard about Helen’s performance suggests that it was equally powerful. I’d also recommend to the episode of Desert Island Discs featuring her; it was originally broadcast last June.

  24. tealily says:

    I love that discussion of anger. And wow, is Damian eloquent. “She could be magnificently angry, imperious, dismissive. Gloriously. But also happy. Always.”

  25. J says:

    My husband mentioned her death to me this weekend, assuming I’d know about it already, but I didn’t. I was heartbroken. Some celebrity deaths hit hard, and this was one of them. She was just so fierce! Sigh.

  26. CrazyHeCallsMe says:

    That was such a beautiful and moving tribute. THis is my monday morning cry. Nothing but love and prayers for the family. Such a loss.

  27. Janerys says:

    What a loss. I was stunned when I heard and gutted for her and her loved ones. For me she’s the outstanding actress of her generation with the range of her roles. Not typecast at all. She bossed the stage, big and small screen and I feel fortunate to have seen her perform at the National Theatre. My 6 year old nephew knows her as Draco Malfoy’s mummy too. Then there’s the dignity of her death and the manner in which she went about it. While people are fixated on dramas royal and the Windsor soap opera there are real tragedies happening, and in her case, what the effects of Covid would have meant for her last year.

  28. K says:

    What a woman. Talented and caring. They sound so well-matched. I am sorry for the loss of her.

  29. Lila says:

    They’re both great and SO TALENTED. I have an old app “TheLoveBook” (poetry) that they both contributed to. I still enjoy listening to their renditions of the classics. So lovely they had that in common. I’m sure it must be devastating their time together was cut short.

  30. The Recluse says:

    We need to kill cancer. It has taken too many great talents from us far too soon: Bozeman, Rickman, and now McCrory.

  31. Gretchen says:

    How sad. I remember the first time I saw her on the small screen in Anna Karenina. I wasn’t a fan of that adaptation, but she was luminous and the only reason I still remember watching it. I wish I’d had the chance to see her on stage. Rest In Peace Helen.

  32. Cali says:

    She was so damn beautiful and sexy, and a phenomenal actor. I was so sad and shocked to hear of her passing. My condolences to her family❤️

  33. ToLiveLikeWeRDying says:

    I feel the same. I miss how it used to be before this!!