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A tribute to Sir Ian Holm

Sun 11th Apr 2021

Despite his Parkinson's diagnosis in 2001, Sir Ian Holm continued to deliver incredible performances up until his final role as Bilbo Baggins in 2014. Photo: CossieMoJo at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
Despite his Parkinson's diagnosis in 2001, Sir Ian Holm continued to deliver incredible performances up until his final role as Bilbo Baggins in 2014. Photo: CossieMoJo at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

This World Parkinson's Day we pay tribute to British actor, Sir Ian Holm. Best known for his roles in Lord of the Rings, Chariots of Fire, Fifth Element and Alien, Holm earned critical acclaim and many accolades in a career spanning almost 50 years.

British star, Sir Ian Holm was an award winning actor remembered for his chameleon-like ability to create a diverse and believable range of characters. He played everything from an android to a hobbit to King Lear and Napoleon. Holm passed away in June 2020 aged 88 after a long battle with Parkinson's.

Early years

Ian Holm Cuthbert was born on September 12, 1931 to Scottish parents James Harvey Cuthbert and wife Jean Wilson (née Holm). He grew up in Goodmayes, Essex and was educated at Chigwell School. Following his parents' retirement to Worthing, he took to acting early and joined an amateur dramatic society.

Henry Baynton, a well-known Shakespearean actor at the time, trained Holm who was then accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1950. Graduating in 1953, he made his stage debut playing a spear-carrier in Othello at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1954. Two years later, he made his London stage debut in Love Affair.

In 1989 Holm was inaugurated a Commander of the British Empire and in 1998 he was knighted Sir Ian Holm for his contribution to drama.

Career

After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Holm spent years establishing himself as an actor at Royal Shakespeare Company. He made a natural progression to television and film in the 1960s, and apart from a couple of theatre performances, never looked back.

Holm's television debut was BBC's The Wars of the Roses in 1965 where he played a psychopathic Richard III. He went on to star in Moonlight on the Highway in 1969 and had small roles in films: Oh! What a Lovely War, Nicholas and Alexandra, Mary, Queen of Scots and Young Winston.

Ian Holm performed in one of his most iconic roles as the android Ash in Ridley Scott's Alien, 1979. Photo: Public Domain
Ian Holm performed in one of his most iconic roles as the android Ash in Ridley Scott's Alien, 1979. Photo: Public Domain

In 1967 Holm won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play as Lenny in The Homecoming and went on to win Best Supporting Actor for The Bofors Gun at the BAFTA Film Awards in 1969.

Holm's first film role to receive worldwide acclaim was Ash, the calm, malfunctioning robot officer in Ridley Scott's science-fiction hit, Alien in 1979.

In the 1980s, he had memorable roles in Time Bandits and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes - and who can forget him as Mr Kurtzmann in Terry Gilliam's dystopian classic, Brazil, where his cry "Has anybody seen Sam Lowry?" became a cult catchphrase.

His portrayal of an Olympic trainer in 1920s Britain in Chariots of Fire in 1981, might well be Holm's most acclaimed role, for which he earned a BAFTA award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

In 1997 Holm's rise in popularity grew further after two memorable roles, as the stressed but kind-hearted priest Vito Cornelius in the iconic science-fiction drama, The Fifth Element and lawyer Mitchell Stephens in The Sweet Hereafter.

The role most people recognise Holm from is that of hobbit, Bilbo Baggins in the blockbuster franchises: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Fun fact, he played Bilbo's nephew Frodo Baggins in the BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings in 1981.

Ian Holm is best known today as Bilbo Baggins. Photo: Supplied
Ian Holm is best known today as Bilbo Baggins. Photo: Supplied

Holm was amazed by the reaction the Lord of the Rings films had and said, "I get a lot of fan mail addressed to Bilbo and sometimes Sir Bilbo." He made sure to sign replies with his character's name and not his, he added.

Holm played more than 100 roles in both film and television and earned critical acclaim and many accolades in a career spanning almost 50 years.

"Ian was such a delightful, generous man. Quiet, but cheeky, with a lovely twinkle in his eye." said Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson.

Holm is remembered for his ability to inhabit each character he played with an ease that audiences, critics and peers admired and respected.

"I think I'm quite ready for another adventure." - Bilbo Baggins

Rest in peace Sir Ian Holm

By Kirsten Jakubenko

Sources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Holm 
  • https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000453/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm 
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/19/obituaries/ian-holm-dead.html