Last week the world said farewell to the accomplished British actor Sir Ian Holm. A classically trained performer, his career spanned almost six decades. Mr. Holm’s talents were generously displayed through the mediums of stage, television, and film. He received his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 for his services to drama.
Sir Ian had been battling Parkinson’s disease for a number of years and, according to his agent, died peacefully in hospital surrounded by his family. He was 88 years old
Born in Essex, England in 1931, Holm took to acting at an early age by joining an amateur dramatic society. He completed his drama school training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1953. For the next quarter-century, Sir Ian was a celebrated stage actor lauded for his performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as for originating the role of Lenny in Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, which eventually earned him a Tony when the production moved to Broadway.
In 1976, Ian suffered a severe case of stage fright during a performance of The Iceman Cometh and abandoned stage acting for almost two decades. Thus began a new phase of his career which increasingly featured the chameleon-like actor on the big screen.
Holm had been working as an actor for decades when he first caught the attention of American audiences for his work as Ash, the treacherous android in 1979’s Alien.
He followed up that performance with his role as the ostracized Olympic coach Sam Mussabini in 1981’s Chariots of Fire. Holm earned an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA trophy for Best Supporting Artist.
But probably the role of that Holm is most associated with in pop culture is that of Bilbo Baggins, the 111-year-old hobbit who handed off the burden of “the one ring” to his nephew Frodo.
The venerated inhabitant of Bag End appeared in four of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of the classic Tolkien Middle Earth adventures beginning with 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
While this trio of roles helped make Mr. Holm an internationally known movie star, they are just a sampling of a prolific life’s work. In the 90’s he received enthusiastic reviews for two lead performances.
The first was the 1997 Canadian film The Sweet Hereafter, in which he played a smooth-talking lawyer seeking reparation in the wake of a town’s unimaginable tragedy.
The other was his portrayal of King Lear in a televised BBC production. His work earned Ian an Emmy nomination in 1998 when the play was broadcast on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre.
If you scan Holm’s listing of 137 IMDB screen credits, you’ll surely be amazed at the range of memorable supporting characters he embodied over the decades. He played historical figures like J.M. Barrie, Lewis Carroll, Joseph Goebbels, and Napoleon (which he did three times) and more fanciful characters such as The Borrowers’ Pod Clock, Priest Cornelius from The Fifth Element and Shakespeare’s mischievous sprite Puck, with equal prowess.
Numerous examples of Ian Holm’s work can be found on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Starz. I encourage you to check out the eccentric, scrappy brilliance that made this actor a pleasure to watch. Please share your favorite Ian Holm roles and memories in the comments.