Alan Howard made his first stage appearance at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, in April 1958, as a footman in Half In Earnest. He remained with the company until 1960, where his roles included Frankie Bryant in Arnold Wesker's Roots in June 1959. The production first transferred to the Royal Court Theatre and then the Duke of York's Theatre in July 1959, where he made his West End debut in the role.
Returning to the Belgrade he played Dave Simmonds in Wesker's I'm Talking About Jerusalem in April 1960. This was followed by Monty Blatt in Chicken Soup with Barley at the Royal Court during June and July 1960, completing the Wesker Trilogy with a revival of Roots and the transfer of I’m Talking About Jerusalem (as 1st Removal Man).
At the Pembroke Theatre in Croydon he played Kenny Baird in A Loss of Roses during January 1961, and the following month a return to the Royal Court as de Piraquo in Tony Richardson's production of Thomas Middleton and william Rowley's Jacobean tragedy The Changeling, then little known.
In 1962 he was cast as the Duke of Ferrara in John Fletcher's The Chances and Nearchus in John Ford's The Broken Heart, both at the Chichester Festival Theatre in its inaugural season. A year later in April 1963 he played Loveless in Virtue in Danger, a musical version of Vanbrugh's The Relapse, first at the Mermaid Theatre before transferring to the Strand Theatre in June 1963. He ended the year playing Fotheringham in Anthony Powell's Afternoon Men at the New Arts Theatre in August 1963.
Engaged by H.M. Tennent Productions, 1964 brought him the challenge of an international tour of South America and Europe  playing both Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice and Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Staged by Wendy Toye and starring Ralph Richardson, the productions were first seen at the Theatre Royal, Brighton .
He first married Actress and theatre designer Stephanie Hinchcliff Davies in 1965 (marriage dissolved). He met his second wife, the Novelist and Journalist Sally Beauman, when she interviewed him about his performance as Hamlet at Stratford in 1970. They became lovers not long afterwards, and married in 2004. They had one son and two grandchildren. Howard was appointed CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1998.
Howard first joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1966, cast as Orsino in Twelfth Night, Burgundy in Henry V and Lussurioso in The Revenger's Tragedy. Subsequent RSC roles, all at Stratford unless otherwise stated, included:
Howard won his first Plays and Players award in 1969, voted by the London theatre critics as the Most Promising Actor in the RSC repertoire. His second came in 1977, again voted for by the London critics, when he won as Best Actor for his RSC performances in Wild Oats, the three parts of Henry VI and Coriolanus. In 1981 he again received the Plays and Players critics' award for Best Actor for his roles in Richard II and Good by C.P. Taylor.
Howard then played Eric von Stroheim in The Ride Across Lake Constance at the Hampstead Theatre in November 1973, transferring to the Mayfair Theatre in December; and again played Cyril in The Black and White Minstrels, revived at Hampstead in January 1974, before returning to the RSC, where his roles included:
He also won the Society of West End Theatre award for Best Actor (1976) for his performances as Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part One and Part Two and Henry V and in 1978 as Best Actor in a Revival for Coriolanus (these are now known as the Olivier Awards).
He twice gained the Evening Standard Award Best Actor trophy for his performances in Coriolanus (1978) and Good (1981).
Other awards include the 1980 Variety Club Best Actor Award for the title roles in Richard II and Richard III; and the Drama magazine (British Theatre Association) Award for Best Actor (joint) 1981, for Richard II, Good and The Forest.
He played a spymaster in the Thames Television six-hour spy story Cover, written by Philip Mackie, 1981; and played John Osborne's Father, Tom Osborne, in A Better Class of Person, Thames 1985. He also played the title role of Coriolanus in the 1984 BBC Shakespeare production.
Between 1989 and 1990 Howard played the lead character of Sam McCready, a semi-retired intelligence agent, in a series of television movies called Frederick Forsyth Presents. He was also seen in such series as Notorious Woman, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Midsomer Murders and Foyle's War. He was Spenlow in David Copperfield (2000) and Maurice Wilkins in Life Story.
Howard died on 14 February 2015 at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London, of pneumonia.
He made occasional film appearances, including a significant role in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) as Michael, "The Lover" who carries on a doomed affair with "The Wife" Georgina played by Helen Mirren. He also supplied the voice of the Ring in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.