Ian Holm obituary: Alien, Chariots of Fire and Lord of the Rings star dies aged 88

Sir Ian Holm, one of Britain’s most lauded actors of the past seven decades, has died at the age of 88.

The award-winning thespian succumbed to illness which was said to be Parkinson’s-related. His agent issued a statement on the news:

“It is with great sadness we can confirm that the actor Sir Ian Holm CBE passed away this morning at the age of 88,” his agent said in a statement.

He died peacefully in hospital with his family and carer.”

Born in 1931, Holm studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and would go on to graduate to the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1950. There, he emerged as an actor whose range and effortless style allowed him to play almost entire Shakespeare’s repertoire.

Amongst his many roles during those early years included Donalbain in Macbeth, The Fool in King Lear and Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That was then followed by meatier parts which included the title roles in Henry V and Richard III.

His most acclaimed performance on stage would come as Lenny in the original production of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming (1965). He later won a Tony when he reprised the role on Broadway in 1967 and would play Lenny again in a later big-screen adaptation in 1973.

Having appeared in four episodes of The Power Game (1966), Holm would enjoy a banner year in 1968 with three cinematic roles. The first of those was as ulsterman Gunner Flynn in the drama The Bofurs Gun, a performance that would win him the first of two BAFTAs. That same year also saw him play Grubeshov in the prison drama The Fixer whilst he also reprised his portrayal of Puck in a big-screen adaptation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

Holm’s film career continued to flourish with key roles as President Raymond Poincaré in Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), Yakolev in Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), David Riccio in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), George Buckle in Young Winston (1972) and King John in Robin and Marian (1975).

During that period, he also produced memorable turns on the small screen including Napoleon in Napoleon and Love (1974), Zerah in Jesus of Nazareth (1977), Heinrich Himmler in Holocaust (1978) and a BAFTA-nominated performance as author J.M. Barrie in The Lost Boys (1978).

The 1970s ended a high for Holm when he took on the role of the android Ash in the sci-fi classic Alien (1979). On working on the film, the actor said:

“It wasn’t a particularly pleasant film to do. It was 16 weeks of bloody hard work down at Shepperton Studios.”

Into the 80s, he appeared television dramas All Quiet on the Western Front (1980) and We, the Accused (1980) before landing the lucrative role of athletics coach Sam Mussabini in the sports biopic Chariots of Fire (1981).

The film received strong acclaim with Holm’s performance earning him his sole Oscar nomination and a second BAFTA win.

Having then played Napoleon in the cult classic Time Bandits (1991), Holm would begin his relationship with the Lord of the Rings story as he provided the voice of titular hero Frodo Baggins in a BBC Radio 4 adaptation.

His screen work continued to rise throughout the 80s with versatile performances as Mr. Kurtzmann in Brazil (1985), Stanley Pilborough in Wetherby (1985), Reverend Charles L. Dodgson in Dreamchild (1985), Ken in Another Woman (1988) and Captain Fluellen in Henry V (1989).

During that period, he also picked up two more BAFTA nominations for his roles as Capitaine Phillippe D’Arnot in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and as Bernard Samson in the spy drama Game, Set, Match (1988).

Holm continued to enjoy success in the 90s with appearances as Polonius in Hamlet (1990), Tom Frost in Naked Lunch (1991), Pod in The Borrowers (1992), Walter Bailiff in Loch Ness (1996), Cornelius in The Fifth Element (1997) and Patrick in The Last of the Blonde Bombshells (2000).

His performance as Dr Willis, the physician who treated George III in The Madness of King George (1994), would garner him his sixth and final BAFTA nomination.

There were further nominations and awards for his portrayal of lawyer Michael Stephens in the critically-acclaimed Canadian drama The Sweet Hereafter (1997). The following year, he won an Olivier for his portrayal of King Lear and would later receive a knighthood for his contributions to the stage and screen.

Holm would then return to the story of the Lord of the Rings when he took on the memorable role of Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of the popular fantasy series (2001-03).

He would play the beloved character four times with the first two of those being in The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Return of the King (2003).

Towards the end of his life, Holm portrayed Napoleon again in The Emperor’s New Clothes (2001) and also played the likes of Sir William Gull in From Hell (2001), Gideon Largemen in Garden State (2004), Terry Rapson in The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Professor Fitz in The Aviator (2004).

He also provided the voice of sinister chef Skinner in the Pixar animation Ratatouille before ending his illustrious career by reprising his role as Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings prequels, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).

Holm is survived by his fourth wife and five children.

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