London: Award-winning actor Ian Holm, popular for his role as Bilbo Baggins in ‘Lord of the Rings’, has died in London at the age of 88. He was a versatile actor who played everything from androids to hobbits via Harold Pinter and King Lear.
“It is with great sadness that the actor Sir Ian Holm CBE passed away this morning at the age of 88,” his agent stated.
Holm was born in 1931 in Essex, where his father was superintendent of the West Ham Corporation psychiatric hospital; he later described his childhood there as “a pretty idyllic existence”. Falling in love with acting at an early age, he went from Rada in London to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford, staying on to become part of the Royal Shakespeare Company on its foundation in 1960.
Holm underwent severe stage fright, which he described as “a sort of breakdown” during the performance of The Iceman Cometh in 1976, which he described as “a scar on my memory that will never go away”. Having abandoned the theatre, Holm developed his screen-acting career. Seen as a safe pair of hands, his casting as the android Ash in the Ridley Scott-directed Alien gave him hitherto undreamed-of international exposure. This role was followed up by his turn as Mussabini, the ostracised running coach of sprinter Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire.
He played Napoleon in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, and hapless Mr. Kurtzmann in the same director’s Brazil; other highlights included Lewis Carroll in the Dennis Potter-scripted Alice fantasy Dreamchild, Dr. Willis in The Madness of King George, and Father Cornelius in Luc Besson’s sci-fi epic The Fifth Element.
Holm returned to Shakespeare in 1997, in the Richard Eyre-directed King Lear at the National Theatre in London, and was knighted a year later for “services to drama”.
Having played Frodo Baggins in a 1981 radio adaptation of Lord of the Rings, Holm was cast as Bilbo in Peter Jackson’s mammoth three-part screen adaptation, with filming on The Fellowship of the Ring beginning in 1999. Bilbo did not appear in The Two Towers, but Holm returned for the final part, The Return of the King, as well as the first and third installments of the Hobbit trilogy, which were released in 2012 and 2014 respectively.
Holm published his autobiography in 2004 which gave him an unexpected reputation as a lothario. He was even hailed by the Daily Mail as “Lord of the Flings” and he candidly chronicled his serial marriages and extramarital affairs.
He is survived by his fourth wife, de Stempel, and five children from previous relationships, as well as his third wife, the actor Penelope Wilton.
“He died peacefully in hospital, with his family and carer. Charming, kind, and ferociously talented, we will miss him hugely,” said the statement. It also stated that his illness was Parkinson’s related.
Earlier this month, he expressed his sadness that he was unable to participate in a virtual reunion for the films, saying: “I am sorry to not see you in person, I miss you all and hope your adventures have taken you to many places, I am in lockdown in my hobbit home or holm.”
Holm’s final days were documented in a series of pastel portraits by his wife, Sophie de Stempel.