Eldest of three brothers from an artistic family: his two brothers are artists, his father was a fine cellist, and his mother a pianist who had studied in Paris. His father supported the family by working in the insurance business.
Grief-stricken following the death of their son Tristan, Alan's wife, the actress and model Victoria Ward, died from a suspected heart attack, following a wasting disease similar to anorexia, in 1992.
Had twin sons, Benedick Bates and Tristan. In 1990, Tristan died of an asthma attack in Tokyo. Two years later, his wife, Victoria, also passed away.
Handpicked by director John Schlesinger to star in the film Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) in the role of Dr. Daniel Hirsh. Even though he wanted the part very much, Bates was held up filming The Go-Between (1970) for director Joseph Losey and also became a father around that time, so he had to pass on the project, with regrets. The part then went first to Ian Bannen who balked and was fired and then to Peter Finch, who earned an Academy Award nomination.
He had one granddaughter, Chatto Bates.
He was an Associate Member of RADA.
He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1995 Queen's Honours List for his services to drama.
He was awarded with a Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire in the 2003 Queen's New Year's Honours List for his services to Drama.
His companion and lover towards the end of his life was his lifelong friend, actress Joanna Pettet, his co-star in 1964's Broadway play "Poor Richard". They split their time both in New York and London.
In 1969, along Oliver Reed became the first actor to do frontal nudity in a major studio motion picture, in Ken Russell's Women in Love (1969).
Patron of The Actors Centre, Covent Garden, London from 1994 until his death in 2003 (previous Patrons: Lord Laurence Olivier, Sir Alec Guinness).
Theatre Awards: 2002: Best Actor Tony and Drama Desk, for "Fortune's Fool;" 2000, Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Award for "Unexpected Man;" 1983 Variety Club Award for "A Patriot for Me;" 1975 Variety Club Award for "Otherwise Engaged;" 1971 Evening Standard Best Actor Award for "Butley;" 1972 Best Actor Tony for "Butley;" 1959 Clarence Derwent Award for "A Long Day's Journey Into Night"
Won two Tony Awards for his only two nominations: in 1973, as Best Actor (Dramatic) for "Butley," a performance he recreated in the film version of the same name, Butley (1974) , and in 2002, as Best Actor (Play) for "Fortune's Fool."
Worked for the Padded Wagon Moving Co. in the early 60s while acting at the Circle in the Square Theater in New York City.