This morning news broke that Sir Ian Holm has passed away. Variety reports that he died in the hospital from complications related to Parkinson’s disease. Although he may be most known as Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings films and The Hobbit’s framing device, he had a long and varied career on both the stage and screen. It could be said that Holm’s greatest strength was that he wasn’t a conventional movie star; like many of the best actors, he could completely sink into a role and make it his own.
Speaking only for myself, I saw Ian Holm in a lot of things before I really knew who he was. I think it’s a testament to his acting abilities that, in my house, his name was overshadowed by his roles. It sounds like a bad thing, but really, I think most people know character actors are some of the best. Movie stars exude charisma and command the screen, but character actors like Holm become their characters in service of their craft. I undoubtedly saw him in other films first, and he had been a respected Shakespearean actor for decades. However, like probably a lot of other people, I’ll always associate Holm with Bilbo Baggins. In portraying Tolkien’s minute creature who went against the expectations and norms of his kind, Ian Holm wasn’t a villain like he was in Alien or Ratatouille. However, he wasn’t terribly virtuous either, an obvious representation of a weaker will than that of his nephew. This might have been better displayed if Frodo’s character had followed his story from the books more closely, but that’s a discussion for another time. Although Bilbo undoubtedly made mistakes, he was ultimately a figure of hope, I think. With the encouragement of an unrelenting friend, Bilbo gave the Ring up willingly to pursue his future. Any death is sad, and the passing of a talent like Holm is a grief we all have to share together. However, his work will live on for people to discover, enjoy, and share with others. Whether it’s The Fifth Element or King Lear, we can all probably remember a great performance of his.
R.I.P. Ian Holm, September 12, 1931-June 19th, 2020
“Well I’ve made up my mind, anyway. I want to see mountains again, Gandalf – mountains; and then find somewhere where I can rest. In peace and quiet, without a lot of relatives prying around, and a string of confounded visitors hanging on the bell. I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring