It’s been a tough week in Hollywood, as we’ve lost several iconic stars over the last seven days. First Cloris Leachman passed on January 27th, then Cicely Tyson the next day, and then yesterday Saved By The Bell’s Dustin Diamond.
We’ve now learned of another passing of a beloved actor, as Hal Holbrook’s personal assistant Joyce Cohen confirmed to the New York Times that the actor passed away at the age of 95 on January 23rd, 2021, at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was buried alongside his wife Dixie Carter in McLemoresville, Tennessee.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1925, the veteran of the stage and screen first saw his star launch with acclaim for his iconic one-man stage show titled Mark Twain Tonight!. Premiering in 1954, Holbrook would continue to perform as the legendary author for over 60 years, retiring the show in 2017 due to his declining health. He won a Tony Award for his stage portrayal of Twain in 1966.
He received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Twain in 1967 and would go on to ultimately earn 10 Emmy nominations throughout his career. Four of those nods resulted in wins, including for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in the 1974 limited series Lincoln.
Holbrook’s film career began in 1966 with the Sidney Lumet feature The Group, but he really became noticed on the big screen with his iconic portrayal of Deep Throat in 1976’s Watergate drama All the President’s Men, directed by Alan J. Pakula. His portrayal there said the standard for what we think of when we imagine covert whistleblowers exposing secrets.
Despite starring in an abundance of beloved films including The Fog, Creepshow, Wall Street, and as a voice role in Disney’s animated Hercules, Holbrook didn’t receive his first Oscar nomination until 2017, for Best Supporting Actor in Into the Wild, from director Sean Penn. It would be Holbrook’s only Oscar nomination, at the time being the oldest nominee ever in the category at 82 years old.
Holbrook was also outspoken politically. While he did receive a National Humanities Medal in 2003 from President George W. Bush for “charming audiences with the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain as Twain’s outlook never fails to give Holbrook a good show to put on”, the actor was a registered independent who leaned liberal, and he became highly critical of the Republican Party within the last decade. Multiple times he voiced his opinion that former President Donald Trump wasn’t fit for office, before and after he was elected. Holbrook spoke highly of Bernie Sanders, whom he considered the only politician who does not “say what they think might get them elected”.
Holbrook is survived by his three children and two stepdaughters, as well as two grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.