Friends, I had just return from lunch a little bit ago when Rockford Jay informed me that the esteemed Sir Ian Holm had passed away today at the age of 88. I realize of course that is not a bad run and it is especially true when you take into account that Holm has left us with so many iconic roles in film and television, 137 acting credits in all, to enjoy as his legacy. Although I say this for every single one of these articles – there is never any joy in writing of the passing of a beloved entertainer – but it feels the proper thing to do in an effort to pay some respect to an actor like Holm. Perhaps like many of you of a certain age I know that the very first time I caught the work of Ian Holm was thanks to Alien, the 1979 science fiction/horror masterpiece by Ridley Scott. The actor’s role as Ash, the doomed Nostromo’s science officer with something of a secret really caught my attention – in fact when said secret is revealed it is a moment of such violence that to this day that I find extremely hard to watch. I have shared before that when Alien was originally released I somehow managed to miss it in theaters and even at the local drive-in – seeing the movie for the first time thanks to the Movie Channel. It would be three years later before I was able to catch Holm on the big screen, not in the critically lauded Chariots of Fire but Terry Gilliam’s equally exceptional Time Bandits. With Holm delivering a hilarious performance as none other than Napoleon – although in my opinion he subtly delivered a menace equally as intense as his role in Alien.
By the time I saw Ian Holm in Alien, he had already appeared in 45 roles in film and television – beginning his career with two appearances in the ITV Play of the Week in 1957 with productions of Rope as well as The Wooden Dish. Throughout his long career he played the likes of King John in 1976’s Robin and Marian, Polonius in Hamlet from 1990, Doctor Murnau in Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka, Pascal in Big Night, and the role of Father Vito Cornelius in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element to single out just a few. Although for many the role he will rightfully be remembered for is as Bilbo Baggins in both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.
“And he lived happily ever after… to the end of his days.”
Sir Ian Holm managed to be nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Chariots of Fire but received the Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance of King Lear with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1998. As well as being nominated four times for the BAFTA Awards with one win – in addition to receiving two Emmy Award nominations for a repeat performance of King Lear as part of the Mobil Masterpiece Theatre and HBO’s The Last of the Blonde Bombshells. I personally feel that the reason that the actor was so memorable in his roles is best summed up by the actor himself who once said:
“I’ve always been a minimalist. It was Bogart [Humphrey Bogart] who once said, “If you think the right thoughts, the camera will pick it up.” The most important thing in the face is the eyes, and if you can make the eyes talk, you’re halfway there.”
While I am deeply saddened by the loss of Sir Ian Holm, I am so very grateful for his many performances over the years – we will dim the lights in the auditorium to mark his passing.