‘Always the bridesmaid, never the bride’, might be true of the career of the late Sir Ian Holm. It was something he was only too happy with stating “As an actor,” he replied, “I’m very much a company person. I have a dread of responsibility. I like someone else to be in charge.”
He was born Ian Holm Cuthbert on 12th September 1931 in. Of all places a psychiatric hospital in Ilford, Essex where both his parents worked. Bullied at school it was little surprise that he suffered from anxiety attacks and found solace in drama and eventually enrolled at RADA in 1949 which was cut short by National Service but he returned to complete his training graduating in 1953 securing himself a place at the RSC. He soon moved up the casting from his first role as spear carrier in Othello. He moved away from the RSC in 1965 to play the role of Lenny in Harold Pinter’s ‘The Homecoming’ winning a Tony award and it was a role he would return to throughout his career. His anxiety developed into depression and it made stage work increasingly difficult for him which came to a head in 1976 when he just stopped performing whilst appearing in The Iceman Cometh an apart from a brief return in 1979 he didn’t return to the stage for 18 years.
It was during this time that film and TV work really began to roll in for Ian Holm. His first film role was in John Frankenheimer’s 1968 film ‘The Fixer’ and he would make almost 100 films over the course of his career working with directors such as Zefferelli (twice), Ridley Scott, Terry Gilliam (twice), David Cronenberg (twice), Kenneth Branagh (twice), Luc Besson, Danny Boyle, Peter Jackson, Roland Emmerich and Martin Scorsese.
But it was the 1979 landmark sci-fi horror film, Alien – his first big Hollywood film that caught the attention of many although Holm didn’t enjoy making it. “It wasn’t a particularly pleasant film to do,” he later recalled. “It was 16 weeks of bloody hard work down at Shepperton Studios.” It was soon followed by a number of high profile films including Chariots of Fire, Time Bandits, Brazil, Frankenstein, The Fifth Element, The Madness of King George and most famously of all The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy. Having played Frodo Baggins on radio Ian Holm would play Bilbo in the film franchise and by the time of The Hobbit being filmed he was 81 years old but it bought him a new legion of fans in what would be his last film in 2014.
Ian Holm was married four times the first to Lynn Shaw for ten years where he had two daughters, the second for four years to Sophie Baker where he had a son, the third to actress Penelope Wilton and finally to Sophie De Stempel in 2003. Between his first and second marriage he had a relationship that produced a son and daughter.
Throughout his career he was only once nominated for an Oscar but won several BAFTA’s as well as various stage awards. In 1989 he was awarded a CBE and in 1998 he was knighted. Sir Ian Holm passed away on 19th June 2020 at 88 years old.