Ian Holm, English actor of stage and screen, has died at age 88. Like Max von Sydow, the Swedish actor who died earlier this year, Holm had a long and varied career. He became perhaps best known recently for his role as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation of the early 2000s (he had played Frodo in a 1981 BBC radio adaptation). But he had already enjoyed a vast and successful career before that, with roles in Alien (1979) as the mysterious android Ash, in Chariots of Fire (1981) as real-life track coach Sam Mussabini, as Father Vito Cornelius in the bonkers yet enjoyable The Fifth Element (1997), and many more.
It can seem a cheap kind of memorializing of actors simply to list the roles they played, however famous they may have been. But in Holm’s case, there is an added reason to do so: They represent a triumph of more than just acting. Incredibly, given the skill of his performances, Holm contended with stage fright. According to the BBC:
For a time he had parallel careers in both theatre and cinema. But he had a history of depression and was finding stage appearances more difficult.
“The crack-up”, as he later termed it, came during a 1976 production of The Iceman Cometh, when a sudden attack of stage fright forced him to stop performing.
Apart from two brief appearances, one as Uncle Vanya in 1979, he did not return to the stage for 18 years.
Those who enjoyed Holm’s performances should be grateful he managed to overcome this in film and television. I was disappointed earlier this month when he failed to appear in a videochat reunion of virtually all the principal cast of the Lord of the Rings. He did send a letter to be read aloud by the chat’s host that, sadly yet perhaps fittingly, serves as one of his final appearances in public life:
Dearest friends from the Ring: I am sorry to not see you in person. I miss you all, and hope your adventures are taking you to many places. I am in lockdown in my hobbit home — or Holm. With all my love, Ian Holm.
And now he is quite ready for another adventure.