Ian Holm, Oscar-Nominated Actor in 'Chariots of Fire,' Dies at 88

The Sweet Hereafter Still 1997 Ian Holm - Photofest - H 2018
Photofest

He played Bilbo Baggins in four films, went headless in 'Alien' and overcame a severe bout of stage fright.

Ian Holm, the versatile British character actor who earned an Oscar nomination for his turn as the athletics trainer in Chariots of Fire and portrayed the hobbit Bilbo Baggins in four movies, has died. He was 88.

Holm died "peacefully in hospital" of an illness that was related to Parkinson’s disease, his agent said in a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.

Holm gained many sci-fi admirers for his performances as Ash, the decapitated android who keeps on going, in Ridley's Scott's Alien (1979) and as the office manager Mr. Kurtzmann in another classic, Terry Gilliam's fantastical Brazil (1985).

Holm was at his subtle best as Gena Rowlands' emotionally unavailable husband in Woody Allen's Another Woman (1988) and as an inscrutable big-city lawyer in the tragedy-laced The Sweet Hereafter (1997), written and directed by Atom Egoyan.

At 5-foot-6, Holm was always an excellent candidate to play a certain pint-sized French emperor, and he did so three times, in the 1974 nine-part miniseries Napoleon and Love, in Gilliam's Time Bandits (1981) and in The Emperor's New Clothes (2001).

And in one of his rare performances as a leading man, he was excellent as Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie in the 1978 BBC miniseries The Lost Boys.

A member of the Royal Shakespeare Company starting in the 1950s, Holm collected Tony and Olivier awards before a case of stage fright that blindsided him during previews for The Iceman Cometh left him queasy about working in front of a live audience for more than a decade.

Holm cemented his place in British cinema history when he played the eccentric track coach Sam Mussabini in the historical sporting drama Chariots of Fire (1981). The film, one of England's most beloved, took the Oscar for best picture, and Holm was nominated for best supporting actor (he lost out to countryman John Gielgud of Arthur).

Holm later portrayed Bilbo, all for Peter Jackson, in The Lord of the Rings films The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Return of the King (2003) and in The Hobbit installments An Unexpected Journey (2012) and The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).

The chameleon-like actor also played King John in Robin and Marian (1976), the father of the scientist in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), a nasty restaurateur in Big Night (1996), a New York City cop in Sidney Lumet's Night Falls on Manhattan (1996), a holy man in The Fifth Element (1997) and Zach Braff's psychiatrist father in Garden State (2004).

"I'm never the same twice," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2000, "and I'm not a movie-star type, so people don't demand that I'm always the same."

"I had such a good time and a fruitful one with Ian, and my only regret was not to have worked with him once again," Scott said in a statement. "Ian talked to me during production quite a lot, which I found to be very helpful. A great talent and a great man — we'll miss him."

Ian Holm Cuthbert was born on Sept. 12, 1931, in Goodmayes, England. His Scottish parents worked in a psychiatric hospital; his mother was a nurse and his father a psychiatrist and early innovator in the technique of electroshock therapy.

In a 2004 interview with The Independent, Holm said he spent a great deal of time around the asylum as a youngster.

"I wasn't allowed near any of the dangerous patients," he noted, "but I do remember one who was called Mr. Anderson. He was always immaculately dressed and, most days, he would fill a wheelbarrow with soil and then spend the rest of the day picking every grain of soil out of the wheelbarrow and putting it on the ground. I rather liked that.

"My childhood there was a pretty idyllic existence. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was happy, but it passed without too much trauma."

Holm studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, then spent more than a decade at the Royal Shakespeare Company starting in 1954. In a 1959 production of Coriolanus, Laurence Olivier cut Holm's finger during a sword fight, and he wound up with a scar that he was quite proud of.

He made several appearances on British television in the early '60s, including a stint as King Richard III in the BBC miniseries The Wars of the Roses.

In London in 1965, Holm starred as Lenny, one of the sons of a retired butcher, in the first staging of Harold Pinter's eerie The Homecoming. He accompanied the play to Broadway two years later and won his Tony award, then reprised the role for the 1973 film adaptation. (All three versions were directed by Peter Hall.)

"He puts on my shoe and it fits!" Pinter once said of Holm. "It's really gratifying."

Things did not go as smoothly for Holm in 1976 when stage fright struck during work on Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh.

"I got into my first preview, which I just managed to get through," he recalled in 1998. "Then in the second preview, on the following night, I just walked off the stage and into the dressing room and said, 'I'm not going back. I cannot go back.' And they had to put the understudy on. My doctor said, 'The Iceman goeth.'

"Something just snapped. Once the concentration goes, the brain literally closes down. It's like a series of doors slamming shut in a jail. Actors dry up all the time. Well, I wasn't just drying; I was stopping. My fellow actors were looking at me in amazement."

Holm starred in Pinter's Moonlight in 1993, then completed his stage comeback four years later when he disrobed completely in Richard Eyre's acclaimed RSC production of King Lear and won an Olivier award.

Holm's big-screen résumé also included The Fixer (1968), Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), Mary Queen of Scots (1971), Juggernaut (1974), Greystoke — The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), Dreamchild (1985), Henry V (1989), Hamlet (1990), Naked Lunch (1991), The Madness of King George (1994), A Life Less Ordinary (1997), Joe Gould's Secret (2000), The Aviator (2004) and Strangers With Candy (2005), and he voiced the grumpy chef Skinner in Ratatouille (2007).

For all this, Holm was named a Commander of the British Empire in 1989 and knighted nine years later. He published his memoir, Acting My Life, in 2004.

Survivors include his wife, Sophie. He was married four times (his third wife was Downton Abbey actress Penelope Wilton), was in another yearslong relationship with a photographer, and had five children.

Georg Szalai contributed to this report.