By John H. Foote

Ian Holm, one of the greatest though less known British actors, has died at 88.

Best known to this generation of film audiences as Bilbo Baggins in the superb The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-02-03) and as Mitchell Stevens the lawyer in The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Holm had a career spanning more than 50 years dating back to the mid-sixties with his stage work for the Royal Shakespeare Company. From stage to film, he was initially seen in small roles in Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), Mary Queen of Scots (1971) and Young Winston (1972). In a strange foreshadowing of his future he did the voice of Frodo Baggins in a BBC radio production of The Lord of the Rings in 1981.

That same year he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Chariots of Fire (1981), the eventual Best Picture winner, followed by memorable roles in Time Bandits (1981) and best of all in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984). Shakespearean roles on Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989) and Hamlet (1990) with Mel Gibson were to follow, as well as portraying father to Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994).

Worldwide acclaim came for his haunted and haunting performance for Atom Egoyan in The Sweet Hereafter (1997) likely his finest leading role. That same year he had a strong part in the cult classic The Fifth Element (1997).

The entire film world was stunned by Peter Jackson’s magnificent epic The Lord of the Rings, released as three films exactly a year apart. In the films Holm appeared as Bilbo Baggins, the crafty owner of a dangerous ring he gives away to be destroyed and then mourns its loss for the rest of his life. The film’s won a collective 17 Academy Awards, the last in the trilogy winning Best Picture. Moving back and forth between the screen and the stage, Hold was regarded as an actor’s actor, always professional, always well admired.

He will be a most missed presence.

Holm passed away due to complications of Parkinson’s Disease.

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