Who Was Bob Hoskins?
Born in 1942 and raised in north London, Bob Hoskins discovered a talent for acting after accidentally landing a lead stage role in the late 1960s. Following his breakout role in the miniseries Pennies from Heaven (1978), he established himself as a commanding big-screen presence in The Long Good Friday (1980). Hoskins' time as a Hollywood leading man dissipated in the years after his celebrated turn in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), but he continued to deliver strong performances in features like Felicia's Journey (1999) and TV series like The Street (2009). Shortly after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, he died at age 71 in 2014.
Early Successes: 'The Long Good Friday' to 'Mona Lisa'
After appearances in Royal Flash (1975) and Zulu Dawn (1979), Hoskins made his first major film splash in The Long Good Friday (1980). Considered a classic entry in a long line of British gangster flicks, The Long Good Friday featured Hoskins as Harold Shand, a brutal crime boss seeking to retain control of his East End syndicate amid a series of misfortunes. Along with such classic scenes as the meat-hook interrogation of rival operatives, the film also showcased its lead's gifts for relaying vulnerability and transmitting powerful emotions without uttering a word.
Hoskins went on to acclaimed roles in features like The Honorary Consul (1983), The Cotton Club (1984), Brazil (1985) and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987). He capped this stretch with an Oscar-nominated turn in Mona Lisa (1986), as an ex-convict who falls for the high-priced call girl he's hired to protect.
'Who Framed Roger Rabbit,' 'Hook' and 'Super Mario Brothers'
For all his dramatic roles, Hoskins is perhaps best known as the flesh-and-blood lead of Robert Zemeckis' Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). The groundbreaking live-action/animated hybrid is remembered for such pithy lines as Jessica Rabbit's "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way," but beneath the goofiness lurked a legitimate murder mystery, with Hoskins anchoring the proceedings as the tough but sympathetic Detective Eddie Valiant. As Zemeckis later noted, "For all the special effects and technical wizardry, it was Bob's honesty and the truth of his performance that made the animated characters believable, and that was a testament to his real talent."
The box-office smash propelled Hoskins to leading man status in Hollywood, though the opportunity was largely squandered with roles in poorly received features like Heart Condition (1990) and Shattered (1991). Mermaids (1990), at least, earned generally strong reviews, and Hoskins made his mark amid the star-studded ensemble of Hook (1991), as the titular villain's right-hand man, Mr. Snee. However, an attempt to draw in the video gamer base of Super Mario Bros. (1993) was a disaster, with Hoskins later decrying it as the low moment of his career.
'Felicia's Journey' and Other Later Works
Rebounding from his troubled Hollywood spell, Hoskins took on the role of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in Nixon (1995), before starring as a boxing coach in the gritty but uplifting TwentyFourSeven (1997). Two years later, he delivered a performance that rivaled those from his acclaimed '80s films in Felicia's Journey, as a troubled loner who gradually reveals his sinister intentions.
After teaming up with old cohorts Helen Mirren and Michael Caine in Last Orders (2001), Hoskins joined Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005) and Adrien Brody in Hollywoodland (2006). He later appeared as union organizer Albert Passingham in Made in Dagenham (2010), based on the real-life strike for equal pay at a London Ford plant in 1968, before calling it a wrap as one of the seven dwarfs in Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).
Hoskins also directed two feature films in his career, the anti-war drama The Raggedy Rawney (1988) and the children's adventure romp Rainbow (1996).
Near Misses: 'The Untouchables' and 'Wolverine'
Prior to production on The Untouchables (1987), when it was unclear whether Robert De Niro would take on the role of Al Capone, director Brian de Palma conferred with Hoskins to ensure he would be available in a pinch. Although De Niro ultimately joined the cast, de Palma thanked Hoskins for providing a safety net by sending a check for $200,000. Hoskins, in turn, phoned the director to say, "Brian, you got any other films you don't want me to be in, I'm here for you, mate, any time."
In 2012, X-Men comics writer Chris Claremont revealed that, given his way, he would have chosen Hoskins for the part of Wolverine on the big screen. Although that choice may seem a strange one, especially since the hulking, handsome Hugh Jackman rose to fame in the role, Claremont pointed out that the original comic version of Wolverine was squat, fierce and feral, attributes that made Hoskins a pretty good fit after all.
'Pennies from Heaven'
Following an early starring role in the short-lived sitcom Thick as Thieves, Hoskins provided a taste of his working-class sensibilities as Alf in the adult literacy program On the Move. However, it was his lead performance in the six-part Pennies from Heaven in 1978 that first introduced his talents to a wide-scale audience. As traveling music sheet salesman Arthur Parker, Hoskins swung from sweet to lecherous, the dark tones of the story tempered by the cast's tendency to break into song. For his work, Hoskins earned his first BAFTA nomination.
Classic Adaptations and Historical Figures
Mining his theater roots, Hoskins delivered a notable turn as Iago in a 1981 BBC adaptation of Othello. He later played Wilkins Micawber in the network's 1999 airing of David Copperfield — which also featured the screen debut of David Radcliffe — and slipped into the role of the hermit-like Badger in a 2006 version of The Wind in the Willows. Additionally, the actor portrayed historical leaders in numerous TV films, including Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in Mussolini and I (1985), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in World War II: When Lions Roared (1994), Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega in Noriega: God's Favorite (2000) and the 1960s-era pontiff in The Good Pope: Pope John XXIII (2003).
Late in his career, Hoskins surfaced in Season 3 of the BBC drama The Street. Although he appeared in just two episodes, he impressed in his role of threatened pub owner Paddy Gargan, earning the 2010 International Emmy Award for Best Actor. The following year, he returned to the role of Mr. Smee for the two-part Neverland, a prequel to Peter Pan.
Bob Hoskins' Height
Hoskins stood just 5'6", though his stature didn't prevent him from convincingly playing tough guys in films like The Long Good Friday.
Theater Beginnings and Acclaim
In 1968 Hoskins accompanied a friend to an audition for a production at the Unity Theatre in London. Mistaken for one of the candidates, he was handed a script to read, and surprisingly wound up with the lead role.
He went on to become a founding member of the Ken Campbell Roadshow, an irreverent troupe that made their mark in gritty pubs and clubs. The exposure led to mainstream opportunities, with Hoskins tapped for parts in Edward Bond's Lear and Charles Wood's Veterans at the Royal Court Theatre in the early 1970s.
By the middle of the decade, the actor had become known for the energy and intensity of his stage work, highlighted by his performances in Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh and George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple during the Royal Shakespeare Company season at the Aldwych in 1976.
Hoskins went on to show his song-and-dance chops as Nathan Detroit in a 1982 National Theatre revival of Guys and Dolls. By then, a burgeoning film career was capturing most of his attention, though he later returned to the London stage in a revival of Luigi Pirandello's As You Desire Me in 2005.
Robert William Hoskins was born on October 26, 1942, in Bury St. Edmunds, West Suffolk. The only child of Robert, a van driver turned bookkeeper, and Elsie, a teacher and school cook, Hoskins experienced a working-class upbringing in the Finsbury Park neighborhood of north London. Stymied by dyslexia, he dropped out of school at age 15 and later abandoned an accountancy course, setting up an itinerant early adulthood. Along with working various jobs that included porter, bouncer, window cleaner and fire-eater, Hoskins spent six months on a kibbutz in Israel and two years tending to camels for Bedouin tribes in Syria.
Marriages and Family
In 1967 Hoskins married teacher Jane Livesey. They had two children together, son Alex and daughter Sarah, but by his own account, the actor "wasn't mature enough for marriage," a problem exacerbated by his frequent absences while working. Their troubled marriage spilled into the tabloids after he had an affair while filming Zulu Dawn, with Jane accusing him of physical abuse.
A protracted divorce took a huge emotional and financial toll on Hoskins, who suffered a nervous breakdown and wound up living in a van for a spell. He got back on his feet after meeting another teacher, Linda Banwell; the two married in 1982, before having daughter Rosa and son Jack.
Retirement and Death
In August 2012, at age 69, Hoskins announced that he was retiring from acting due to the onset of Parkinson's disease.
Less than two years later, on April 29, 2014, he died in a London hospital from pneumonia. His former co-star Mirren was among the many celebrities who offered a tribute, calling him "a great actor and an even greater man" whose "inimitable energy ... seemed like a spectacular firework rocket just as it takes off."
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