Ian Holm, an acclaimed British stage and film actor whose performances included everything from hobbits and androids to iconic roles from Shakespeare and Harold Pinter, died Friday morning at age 88. Holm died peacefully in a hospital surrounded by his family, his agent, Alex Irwin, said in a statement obtained by CNET parent company CBS News. His death was related to Parkinson’s disease, the statement said.
Holm “had a kind of magical malleability, with a range that went from the sweet-tempered to the psychotic,” The New York Times wrote.
To younger moviegoers, he may be best known to some for his role as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movie trilogies. (In The Hobbit, Holm played an elderly Bilbo, while Martin Freeman played the younger version.) But Bilbo wasn’t his first J.R.R. Tolkien role, or even his first Baggins. In 1981, he voiced Frodo Baggins in the BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
Many sci-fi movie fans remember him from the chilling 1979 film Alien. Holm played Ash, the science officer on the doomed Nostromo who turns out to be an android with orders to bring back the deadly aliens even if the human crew must be sacrificed. And still others know him best for his BAFTA Award-winning and Oscar-nominated role as trainer Sam Mussabini in 1981’s Chariots of Fire.
Holm won the 1967 Tony Award for his role as Lenny in playwright Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, and the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for his portrayal of King Lear. Other roles across his varied career include Father Vito Cornelius in 1997’s The Fifth Element, Chef Skinner in the 2007 animated film Ratatouille, and multiple performances as French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte.
“I’ve always been a minimalist,” Holm once said of acting. “It was 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.”
Fans, including many notable filmmakers and actors, as well as Holm’s co-stars, remembered him on social media. Elijah Wood, who played Frodo Baggins to Holm’s Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings movies, wrote, “So sad to hear that the singular, brilliant and vibrant, Sir Ian Holm has passed. Farewell, uncle.”
And Dominic Monaghan, who played Merry in the Lord of the Rings movies, wrote, “Off to the Grey Havens goes dear Ian Holm. Pete Jackson said he was the best actor he had ever worked with. I studied him whenever I could. On set and off it, he was a magical man. So sweet. So full of twinkle. So GOOD at it all. Namárië Uncle Bilbo xoxo.” (The word Namárië means “farewell” in Quenya, a language used in Lord of the Rings.)
Holm was married four times and had five children.