Sir Ian Holm’s career spanned Shakespearean intrigue, Alien and Tolkien

Sir Ian Holm’s career spanned Shakespearean intrigue, Alien and Tolkien
Ballets Russes – Sadlers Well Theatre – London

Sir Ian Holm was admired for his Stakhanovite work ethic and rich character portraits, which spanned genres and generations.

He was many things to many people – Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Father Vito Cornelius in The Fifth Element, android double agent Ash in Alien.

Younger viewers might treasure his turn as the grumpy old hobbit whose adventures across Middle Earth prompted encounters with dwarves, dragons and the One Ring.

Sir Ian Holm was knighted by the Queen (Sean Dempsey/PA)

The older generation might recall his electric portrayal of Harold Abrahams’ running coach Sam Mussabini in the Oscar-winning Chariots Of Fire.

Widely considered one of the greatest British actors, Sir Ian was a favourite among critics, the public and his fellow actors.

His presence was coveted by directors, and he worked alongside Martin Scorsese, Stanley Tucci, David Cronenberg and Woody Allen to name just a few.

Across more than 100 roles in films, television and on stage, he secured a Laurence Olivier award, a Tony and a Bafta, and was a member of the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company.

Sir Ian was married four times, most recently to Sophie de Stempel, a protegee and life model of Lucian Freud, and had five children.

His various dalliances led him to be dubbed the “Lord of the Flings” by the tabloid press.

Sir Ian was born on September 12 1931 in a psychiatric hospital in Goodmayes, Essex, where his father was superintendent, and did pioneering research into electric shock therapy.

Inspired by seeing Les Miserables as a boy, he secured a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1949 before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Sir Ian Holm and Sophie de Stempel at the Newport Beach Film Festival UK Honours event in London (David Parry/PA)

However, his stage career was cut short after he developed acute stage fright during a production of The Iceman Cometh in 1976.

“The actor’s industrial disease,” he later described the condition.

He returned to the stage on only a handful of occasions, including his acclaimed portrayal of King Lear at the National Theatre in 1998.

In June that year, he was knighted for services to entertainment.

Typically, he was busy with work, filming eXistenZ just outside Toronto in Canada with cult film-maker Cronenberg.

He said only: “I’m delighted.”

Sir Ian’s turn as Bilbo Baggins in The Lord Of The Rings between 2001 and 2003, and then The Hobbit, transformed him from revered actor into household name.

In an unlikely twist, some two decades earlier he had played Frodo Baggins, Bilbo’s cousin and heir, in a BBC radio adaptation of the JRR Tolkien books.

Sir Ian said in a 2004 interview with the Independent that he was “completely amazed by the reaction” to the films.

He added: “I get a lot of fan mail addressed to Bilbo and sometimes Sir Bilbo – it’s hardly ever addressed to Ian Holm, in fact.

“My business manager drafts the replies, and then I pop into the office and sign them ‘Bilbo’ but, of course, it hasn’t changed my life. Nothing could possibly change my life.”

In 2002, he revealed he was being treated for prostate cancer and had begun treatment, including with hormones, in the UK and the US.

His work became more sparse as he passed his 70th birthday.

He voiced a diminutive, ruthless chef in Pixar’s Ratatouille, played Ben-Gurion in O Jerusalem and reprised Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.

In one of his final public appearances, a frail Sir Ian attended an event organised by the Newport Beach Film Festival at London’s Langham Hotel in a wheelchair.

He was honoured with an icon award, celebrating his six-decade contribution to the arts, and his family delivered a speech in his stead.

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