Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bob Hoskins: The Long Good Friday actor dies aged 71

British actor Bob Hoskins, best known for his roles in films The Long Good Friday (1980) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), has died of pneumonia at the age of 71.

Hoskins' agent said he died on Tuesday in hospital, surrounded by family.

The star won a BAFTA and was Oscar nominated in 1987 for crime drama Mona Lisa (1986), in which he starred opposite Sir Michael Caine and Robbie Coltrane.

He announced he was retiring from acting in 2012 after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

"We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Bob," added his wife Linda and children Alex, Sarah, Rosa and Jack said in a statement.

"Bob died peacefully at hospital last night surrounded by family, following a bout of pneumonia. We ask that you respect our privacy during this time and thank you for your messages of love and support."

"My darling Dad has died," Rosa Hoskins added on her website. "I loved him to the ends of the earth and he loved me back just the same."

Michael Caine, who also appeared with Hoskins in the films Sweet Liberty (1986) and Last Orders (2001), remembered him as "one of the nicest and best actors I have ever worked with".

Dame Helen Mirren, who played the wife of the gangster he portrayed in The Long Good Friday, also paid tribute, describing him as "a great actor and an even greater man" whose "inimitable energy... seemed like a spectacular firework rocket just as it takes off".

"When I worked with him on his iconic film The Long Good Friday, he was supportive and unegotistic," she went on. "I had the honour of watching the creation of one of the most memorable characters of British film."

Those sentiments were echoed by Timothy Spall, who said Hoskins was "an adored man and a deeply respected and admired actor [who] was able to make people laugh and cry".

Despite being born in 1942 in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, Robert William Hoskins was regarded as a quintessential Cockney,

His mother Elsie, a nursery school teacher, was evacuated there during the Blitz and returned to London with him shortly after his birth.

Growing up in the Finsbury Park area of the capital, the young Bob battled dyslexia. He also got into literal battles with local toughs, one of whom left him with a knife wound in his stomach.

"A common misperception of me is that I am a tough guy," he said in 2007. "You don't end up looking like me if you are a tough guy. I just have a big mouth with little to back it up."

After school he started training as a commercial artist. But he gave up to take a variety of jobs, including Covent Garden porter, circus worker and deckhand in the Norwegian Merchant Navy.

He became an actor by accident. Waiting for a friend in the bar of an amateur theatre in north London in 1966, he was handed a script and asked to read for a part.

The audition was a successful one and led to him working for five years in repertory theatre, where his roles ranged from Shakespeare to circus fire-eater.

Hoskins joined the Royal Court Theatre in 1972, had a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre in 1976 and enjoyed a successful run at the National Theatre, notably as Nathan Detroit in its 1981 revival of Guys And Dolls.

But his big break had come three years earlier on television, in Dennis Potter's BBC series Pennies From Heaven, in which he played a travelling sheet music salesman caught up in Broadway fantasies.

The series became a cult favourite in the United States and established him there as a star, though he would later say the role of Arthur Parker had been "very painful" to play.

At only 5ft 6in tall (1.68m) – Hoskins described himself as "a short, fat, middle-aged man with a broken nose and a bald head" – he was soon being forecast as a successor to Edward G Robinson and James Cagney.

The connection was cemented with the film The Long Good Friday (1980), in which he played a ruthless London gangster with dreams of redeveloping the Docklands.

Yet Hoskins almost missed out on one of his most memorable roles. When he was offered the part of the pugnacious Harold Shand he was afflicted with a tape worm, contracted while shooting a film in South Africa, that required a stay in hospital.

His Hollywood career was further enhanced by The Cotton Club (1984), though that role too might well have eluded his grasp.

Speaking on Desert Island Discs in 1988, the actor recalled getting a phone call after midnight from a man introducing himself as the director Francis Ford Coppola.

"I said 'This is Henry VIII and you've just woke my kids up – thanks very much' and I put the phone down," he revealed.

Hoskins won the best actor award at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival for Mona Lisa, in which he played an ex-convict hired to drive a high-class prostitute around London.

The Neil Jordan drama would also win him a BAFTA and saw him receive his only nomination for an Academy Award®.

Two years later, he was memorably cast by director Robert Zemeckis as a bumbling private detective in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

Hoskins would later admit to being driven to distraction by the demands of working with an imaginary co-star – a madcap cartoon rabbit added after his live action scenes had been completed.

"You have to learn to hallucinate," he told Desert Island Discs host Sue Lawley, revealing he found himself imagining animated characters for months afterwards.

"There were weasels and rabbits all over the place – I couldn't stop it."

The years that followed would see him take on a wide range of roles – playing Smee in Steven Spielberg's Hook (1991), one half of the Super Mario Bros (1993), a serial killer in Felicia's Journey (1999) and a cameo as himself in the Spice Girls film Spice World (1997).

Bob Hoskins was also a playwright who wrote under the name Robert Williams.

He also took up directing, first in 1988 with The Raggedy Rawney and again in 1995 with family film Rainbow, and became synonymous with the phrase "It's good to talk" after appearing in a British Telecom ad campaign.

Hoskins was offered elocution lessons early in his acting career but chose to retain his recognisable London accent.

"If I'm going to present something as real, I have to cling on some reality myself," he explained.

His distinctive manner of speaking did stop him being cast as such famous figures as Benito Mussolini, Nikita Khrushchev and FBI boss J Edgar Hoover in Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995).

Yet, the opportunity to play Al Capone in Brian De Palma's film remake of The Untouchables (1987) passed him by when Robert De Niro became available.

The director went on to send him a cheque for £20,000, the receipt of which gave the actor one of his favourite and most repeated stories.

"I phoned him up and I said 'Brian, if you've ever got any films you don't want me in, son, you just give me a call'."

His other film credits included Mermaids (1990), Mrs Henderson Presents (2005) and Made In Dagenham (2010). 

Dame Judi Dench, who starred opposite Hoskins in Mrs Henderson Presents, told the BBC News website: "I'm so very sorry to hear this news, and am thinking of his family at this sad time."

His last film role was as one of the seven dwarves in Snow White And The Huntsman (2012), starring opposite Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth.

It was later that year that Hoskins announced his retirement from acting after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

UK film critic Jason Solomons called The Long Good Friday "a great Londoner's movie".

"London ran through him like a stick of rock," he added.

Tributes to the actor have appeared swiftly on Twitter, with BAFTA saying it was "deeply saddened" to learn of his death.

Actress Vicky McClure, who worked with Hoskins on Shane Meadows' film A Room For Romeo Brass (1999), said: "He was one of the best. I feel honoured to have met & worked with him."

Sherlock creator and actor Mark Gatiss, who appeared as Rat opposite Hoskins' Badger in an adaptation of The Wind In The Willows (2006), tweeted a picture of the two together, praising Hoskins as "a true gent and an inspiration".

Stephen Fry added: "That's awful news. The Long Good Friday [is] one of the best British movies of the modern era. A marvellous man."

He was twice married and had four children.

Our thoughts go out to his friends and family.

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