Sir Ian Holm, the consummate stage actor who went from pivotal character roles to starring in several iconic films later in his career, died Friday at 88. The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Holm had been in declining health, but made public appearances through early 2020.
Born in 1931 in England to Scottish parents, Holm was drawn to the stage, benefiting from a chance encounter with a Shakespearean actor who volunteered to mentor him and to help him get into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1949. Following several years of study, and a break for military service, he made his English stage debut in 1956.
Holm became known for his grasp of Shakespeare, and was playwright Harold Pinter’s favorite actor, winning the Tony for “The Homecoming” in 1967, and recreating the role in the 1973 feature film. As adept as he was onstage, Holm gradually drifted from the medium due to stage fright. Asked what might lure him back, he said a new play by Pinter and an invitation to star — which led to his return to the stage in 1993’s “Moonlight.”
Meanwhile, Holm had worked extensively on TV from the ’50s on and began his film career in 1968. Early performances in “Oh! What a Lovely War” (1969); “Mary, Queen of Scots” (1971), and “Robin and Marian” (1976) kept him in the public eye, but it was his turn as the up-to-no-good android Ash in “Alien” (1979) that really made audiences lose their heads for his skills as a film actor.
Not long after, Holm collected a BAFTA and was Oscar-nominated for his supported role in Oscar Best Picture winner “Chariots of Fire” (1981). His movie career continued with memorable turns in such diverse fare as “Time Bandits” (1981), “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (1984), “Brazil” (1985), “Dance with a Stranger” (1985), “Henry V” (1989), “Hamlet” (1990), “Naked Lunch” (1991), “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” (1994), “The Madness of King George” (1994), “Big Night” (1996), “Night Falls on Manhattan” (1996), “The Fifth Element” (1997), “The Sweet Hereafter” (1997), and “eXistenZ” (1999).
In 2001, Holm’s performance as Bilbo Baggins in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” established his spot in film history. It was a character he revisited in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Kings” (2003), “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012), and in his final film, “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” (2014).
Holm is survived by his fourth wife, the artist Sophie de Stempel, by his five children, and by one grandson.