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Ian Holm

Ian Holm.jpg
Holm in Edinburgh in 2004
Ian Holm Cuthbert

(1931-09-12)12 September 1931
Goodmayes, Essex, England
Died 19 June 2020(2020-06-19) (aged 88)
London, England
Resting place Highgate Cemetery
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Occupation Actor
Years active 1957–2014
  • Lynn Mary Shaw
    (m. 1955; div. 1965)
  • Sophie Baker
    (m. 1982; div. 1986)
  • (m. 1991; div. 2001)
  • Sophie de Stempel
    (m. 2003)
Children 5

Sir Ian Holm Cuthbert CBE (12 September 1931 – 19 June 2020) was an English actor known for his roles on stage and screen. Beginning his career on the British stage as a standout member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, he later transitioned into a successful and prolific screen career. He received numerous accolades including two BAFTA Awards and a Tony Award along with nominations for an Academy Award and two Emmy Awards. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1989 by Queen Elizabeth II.

Holm won the 1967 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor for his performance as Lenny in the Harold Pinter play The Homecoming. He won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance in the title role in the 1998 West End production of King Lear. For his television roles he received two Primetime Emmy Award nominations for King Lear (1998), and the HBO film The Last of the Blonde Bombshells (2003).

He gained acclaim for his role in The Bofors Gun (1968) winning the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor nomination and a BAFTA Award win for his role as athletics trainer Sam Mussabini in Chariots of Fire (1981). Other notable film roles include in Alien (1979), Brazil (1985), Henry V (1989), The Madness of King George (1994), The Fifth Element (1997), The Sweet Hereafter (1997), and The Aviator (2004). He gained wider appreciation for his role as the elderly Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. He also voiced Chef Skinner in the Pixar animated film Ratatouille (2007).

Early life and education

Ian Holm Cuthbert was born on 12 September 1931 in Goodmayes, Essex, to Scottish parents, James Harvey Cuthbert and his wife Jean Wilson (née Holm). His father was a psychiatrist who worked as the superintendent of the West Ham Corporation Mental Hospital and was one of the pioneers of electric shock therapy; his mother was a nurse. He had an older brother, who died when Ian was 12 years old. Holm was educated at the independent Chigwell School in Essex. His parents retired to Mortehoe in Devon and then to Worthing, where he joined an amateur dramatic society.

A chance encounter with Henry Baynton, a well-known provincial Shakespearean actor, helped Holm train for admission to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he secured a place from 1950. His studies were interrupted a year later when he was called up for National Service in the British Army, during which he was posted to Klagenfurt, Austria, and attained the rank of Lance Corporal. They were interrupted a second time when he volunteered to go on an acting tour of the United States in 1952. Holm graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1953.

He made his stage debut in 1954, at Stratford-upon-Avon, playing a spear-carrier in a staging of Othello. Two years later, he made his London stage debut in Love Affair.


Holm was an established star of the Royal Shakespeare Company before gaining notice in television and film. In 1965, he played Richard III in the BBC serialisation of The Wars of The Roses, based on the RSC production of the plays. In 1969, he appeared in Moonlight on the Highway. He appeared in minor roles in films such as Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), Mary, Queen of Scots (1972) and Young Winston (1972).

In 1967 Holm won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play as Lenny in The Homecoming by Harold Pinter. In 1977, Holm appeared in the television mini-series Jesus of Nazareth as the Sadducee Zerah, and a villainous Moroccan in March or Die. The following year he played J. M. Barrie in the award-winning BBC mini-series The Lost Boys, In 1981, he played Frodo Baggins in the BBC radio adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Holm's first film role to gain much notice was that of Ash, the "calm, technocratic" science officer - later revealed to be an android - in Ridley Scott's science-fiction film Alien (1979). His portrayal of the running coach Sam Mussabini in Chariots of Fire (1981) earned him a special award at the Cannes Film Festival, a BAFTA award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In the 1980s, Holm had memorable roles in Time Bandits (1981), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) and Brazil (1985). He played Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, in Dreamchild (1985).

In 1989, Holm was nominated for a BAFTA award for the television series Game, Set and Match. Based on the novels by Len Deighton, this tells the story of an intelligence officer (Holm) who learns that his own wife is an enemy spy. He also continued to perform Shakespeare in films. He appeared with Kenneth Branagh in Henry V (1989) and as Polonius to Mel Gibson's Hamlet (1990). Holm was reunited with 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 priest Vito Cornelius in Luc Besson's sci-fi The Fifth Element and lawyer Mitchell Stephens in The Sweet Hereafter. 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 the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. He returned for 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. He later reprised his role as the elderly Bilbo Baggins in the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Martin Freeman portrayed the young Bilbo Baggins in those films.

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. He appeared in David Cronenberg film eXistenZ (1999). He was Harold Pinter's favourite actor: the playwright once said: "He puts on my shoe, and it fits!" Holm played Lenny in both the London and New York City premieres of Pinter's The Homecoming. He played Napoleon Bonaparte three times: in the television mini-series Napoleon and Love (1974), Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits (1981), and The Emperor's New Clothes.

Holm also received royal recognition for his contributions: He was made CBE in 1989 and knighted in 1998.

Personal life

Holm was married four times: to Lynn Mary Shaw in 1955 (divorced 1965); to Sophie Baker in 1982 (divorced 1986); to actress Penelope Wilton, in Wiltshire, in 1991 (divorced 2002); and to the artist Sophie de Stempel in 2003. He had two daughters from his first marriage, a son from his second marriage, and a son and daughter from his 15-year relationship with photographer Bee Gilbert.

Holm and Wilton appeared together in the BBC miniseries The Borrowers (1993). His last wife, Sophie de Stempel, is a protégée and was a life model of Lucian Freud, as well as an artist in her own right.


Holm, Ian 2020
Grave of Ian Holm in Highgate Cemetery

Holm was treated for prostate cancer in 2001 and was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He died in hospital in London on 19 June 2020 at the age of 88. His ashes are interred on the western side of Highgate Cemetery.



Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1968 The Bofors Gun Flynn
The Fixer Grubeshov
A Midsummer Night's Dream Puck
1969 Oh! What a Lovely War Raymond Poincaré
1971 Nicholas and Alexandra Vasily Yakovlev
Mary, Queen of Scots David Rizzio
1972 Young Winston George E. Buckle
1973 The Homecoming Lenny
1974 Juggernaut Nicholas Porter
1976 Robin and Marian King John
Shout at the Devil Mohammed
1977 March or Die El Krim
1979 Alien Ash
S.O.S. Titanic J. Bruce Ismay
1981 Chariots of Fire Sam Mussabini
Time Bandits Napoleon
1982 The Return of the Soldier Doctor Anderson
Inside the Third Reich Joseph Goebbels
1984 Laughterhouse Ben Singleton
The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
Capitain Philippe D'Arnot
Terror in the Aisles Ash
1985 The Browning Version Andrew Crocker-Harris
Dreamchild Charles L. Dodgson
Wetherby Stanley Pilborough
Brazil Mr Kurtzmann
Dance with a Stranger Desmond Cussen
Mr and Mrs Edgehill Eustace Edgehill
1988 Another Woman Ken Post
1989 Henry V Fluellen
1990 Hamlet Polonius
1991 Kafka Doctor Murnau
1992 Blue Ice Sir Hector
1993 The Hour of the Pig Albertus
1994 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Baron Alphonse Frankenstein
The Madness of King George Dr. Francis Willis
1996 Big Night Pascal
Loch Ness Water Bailiff
1997 Night Falls on Manhattan Liam Casey
The Sweet Hereafter Mitchell Stephens
The Fifth Element Father Vito Cornelius
A Life Less Ordinary Naville
Incognito John Uncredited cameo
1998 Alice through the Looking Glass White Knight
King Lear Lear
1999 Shergar Joseph Maguire
eXistenZ Kiri Vinokur
Simon Magus Sirius/Boris/The Devil
Wisconsin Death Trip Frank Cooper (voice)
The Match Big Tam
2000 Joe Gould's Secret Joe Gould
The Miracle Maker Pontius Pilate (voice)
The Last of the Blonde Bombshells Patrick
Esther Kahn Nathan Quellen
Beautiful Joe George The Geek
Bless the Child Reverend Grissom
2001 From Hell Sir William Gull
The Emperor's New Clothes Napoleon / Eugene Lenormand
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Bilbo Baggins
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004 The Day After Tomorrow Professor Terry Rapson
Garden State Gideon Largeman
The Aviator Professor Fitz
2005 Strangers with Candy Dr. Putney
Chromophobia Edward Aylesbury
Lord of War Simeon Weisz
2006 Renaissance Jonas Muller (voice)
O Jerusalem Ben Gurion
The Treatment Dr. Ernesto Morales
2007 Ratatouille Chef Skinner (voice)
2012 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Older Bilbo Baggins
2014 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Final acting role


Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1972–74 BBC Play of the Month Khrushchov/Oedipus 2 episodes
1974 Napoleon and Love Napoleon I 9 episodes
1974–75 The Lives of Benjamin Franklin Wedderburn 3 episodes
1975 Private Affairs David Garrick Episode: Mr Garrick and Mrs Woffington
1977 The Man in the Iron Mask Duval Television film
Jesus of Nazareth Zerah Parts 1 & 2
Jubilee Bill Ramsey Episode: Ramsey
1978 Do You Remember? Walter Street Episode: Night School
The Lost Boys J. M. Barrie 3 episodes
Holocaust Heinrich Himmler 2 episodes
Les Misérables Thénardier Television film
The Thief of Baghdad The Gatekeeper Television film
1979 All Quiet on the Western Front Himmelstoss Television film
S.O.S. Titanic Bruce Ismay Television film
1980 We, the Accused Paul Pressett Miniseries; 5 episodes
The Misanthrope Alceste Television film
1981–2008 Horizon Narrator Television documentary
1982 The Bell Michael Meade TV
Play for Today Alexie Television play (episode: Soft Targets)
1982 Tales of the Unexpected Alan Corwin Television play (episode: Death Can Add)
1986 Murder by the Book Hercule Poirot Television film
1988 Game, Set and Match Bernard Samson 13 episodes
1989 The Tailor of Gloucester The Tailor Television film
1989 The Endless Game Control 2 episodes
1991 Uncle Vanya Astrov BBC TV
1992 The Borrowers Pod Clock 6 episodes
1993 The Return of the Borrowers Pod Clock 6 episodes
1999 Animal Farm Squealer (voice) Television film
2003 Monsters We Met Narrator Television documentary
2004 The Last Dragon Narrator Television film
2005 The Adventures of Errol Flynn Narrator Television documentary
2009 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth Narrator 2 episodes


Year Title Role Venue
1960 Troilus and Cressida Troilus Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
1962 Measure for Measure Claudio
1963 The Tempest Ariel
1967 The Homecoming Lenny Music Box Theatre, Broadway
1967 Romeo and Juliet Romeo Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
1997 King Lear Lear Cottesloe Theatre, London

Honours and accolades

See also

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