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Sir Ian Holm CBE (September 12, 1931 - June 19, 2020) was an English award-winning actor known for his stage work and for many film roles, including the hobbit Bilbo Baggins in the first and third films of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, the voice of Frodo Baggins in the 1981 BBC radio series, Father Vito Cornelius in The Fifth Element (1997), and the android Ash in Alien (1979). He was also narrator of the documentary The Real Middle Earth (2003).


Early life

Holm was born Ian Holm Cuthbert in Goodmayes, Essex, the son of "relatively elderly" Scottish parents Jean Holm, a nurse, and Dr. James Harvey Cuthbert, a psychiatrist who worked as the superintendent of the West Ham Corporation Mental Hospital and was also a pioneer of electric shock therapy. He had an older brother, Eric. Holm was educated at Chigwell School and then the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.


Holm was an established star of the Royal Shakespeare Company before making an impact on television and film. In 1965, Holm played Richard III in the BBC's serialisation of the Wars of the Roses plays, based on the RSC production of the plays, and gradually made a name for himself with minor roles in films such as Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) and Young Winston (1972). In 1967, he won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play, for playing the role of Lenny in The Homecoming by Harold Pinter. In 1977, Holm appeared in the TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth as the Sadducee Zerah, and in the following year played J M Barrie in the BBC TV series The Lost Boys, in which his son Barnaby played the young George Llewelyn Davies.

Holm's first film role to have a major impact was that of the treacherous android, Ash, in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979). His portrayal of Sam Mussabini in Chariots of Fire (1981), earned him a special award at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Back home in England, he won a BAFTA award, for Best Supporting Actor, for Chariots. In the 1980s, he had memorable roles in Time Bandits (1981), Greystoke - The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) and Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985). He played Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland in the Dennis Potter-scripted fantasy Dreamchild (1985).

In 1989 Holm was nominated for a BAFTA award for the TV series Game, Set, and Match. Based on the novels by Len Deighton this tells the story of an intelligence officer (Holm) who discovers that his own wife is an enemy spy. He continued to perform Shakespeare, and appeared with Kenneth Branagh in Henry V (1989) and as Polonius to Mel Gibson's Hamlet (1990). Holm was reunited with Kenneth Branagh in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), playing the father of Branagh's Victor Frankenstein.

Holm raised his profile in 1997 with two prominent roles, as the stressed but gentle priest Vito Cornelius in the The Fifth Element and the tormented plaintiff's lawyer in The Sweet Hereafter. Holm was knighted for his services to drama in 1998. In 2001 he starred in From Hell as the physician Sir William Withey Gull. The same year he appeared as Bilbo Baggins in the blockbuster film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, having previously played Bilbo's nephew Frodo Baggins in a 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. He reappeared in the trilogy in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), for which he shared a SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Ian Holm and Peter Jackson during the making of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Holm was nominated for an Emmy Award twice, for a PBS broadcast of a National Theatre production of King Lear, in 1999; and for a supporting role in the HBO film The Last of the Blonde Bombshells opposite Judi Dench, in 2001. Holm provided voice-overs for many British TV documentaries and commercials.

Holm was a favorite actor of Terry Gilliam, having appeared in Time Bandits and Brazil. Holm also appeared in two David Cronenberg films, Naked Lunch (1991) and eXistenZ (1999) and was Harold Pinter's favorite actor, the playwright once stating: "He puts on my shoe, and it fits!" Holm made a stir as Lenny in the first ever performance of Pinter's masterpiece The Homecoming.

He portrayed Napoleon Bonaparte three times, first in the 1972 television series Napoleon and Love. Next, in a cameo comic rendition, in Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits from 1981. He completed the set in 2001 playing the fallen and exiled leader in the fanciful film The Emperor's New Clothes.

His last film role was reprising an old Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Personal life

Holm was married four times. In 1991 he married his third wife, popular actress Penelope Wilton, and they appeared together in The Borrowers (1993) on British television. They divorced in 2001. His fourth and last wife was artist Sophie de Stempel, a protégé and life model of Lucian Freud.

Holm was father to five children (three daughters and two sons) from three women, amongst others the first two of his four wives. His eldest daughter, Jessica, is presenter of the "Crufts Dog Show". Sarah-Jane Holm played Jenny Rodenhurst Simcock in A Bit of a Do. Barnaby Holm acted as a child but now lives in Los Angeles as a Hollywood club owner, while Harry Holm is a filmmaker most notable for his music videos. Melissa Holm is a casting director.

He was awarded a CBE in 1990 and was later made a Knight Bachelor in 1998 for Services to Drama.

He was treated for prostate cancer in 2001, though he afterwards entered remission. After 2007 he mostly retired from acting due to developing Parkinson's disease, due to the complications of which he died in June 2020.


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