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Obituary: Bob Hoskins

Bob Hoskins in The Street

Obituary by Jack Foley

BRITISH screen legend Bob Hoskins has died of pneumonia at the age of 71.

The popular actor was best known for iconic roles in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Long Good Friday.

Hoskins’ agent said he died on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in hospital, surrounded by family. He announced he was retiring from acting in 2012 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

His wife Linda and children Alex, Sarah, Rosa and Jack said in a statement: “We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Bob. He 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.”

In a career marked by its versatility, Hoskins was BAFTA and was Oscar-nominated in 1987 for crime drama Mona Lisa, in which he starred opposite Sir Michael Caine and Robbie Coltrane, and was equally at home playing gritty gangsters, amiable supporting characters or children’s favourite characters – as evidenced by his memorable turn in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and as Smee in Steven Spielberg’s Hook.

Born Robert William Hoskins in 1942 in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, he subsequently grew up in the Finsbury Park area of London and had to overcome several obstacles.

He not only battled dyslexia but also got into literal battles with local tough boys, one of whom left him with a knife wound in his stomach.

After school he started training as a commercial artist but gave that up to take a variety of jobs, including Covent Garden porter, circus worker and deckhand in the Norwegian Merchant Navy. Ironically, he became an actor by accident – while 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 proved a success and Hoskins spent the next five years working in repertory theatre, during which he tackled everything from Shakespeare to circus fire-eating.

It wasn’t until 1972 that he first started to attract serious attention with a role in the series Villiains. That same year, he joined the Royal Court Theatre and had a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre in 1976.

He enjoyed a successful run at the National Theatre with memorable roles including that of Nathan Detroit in a 1981 revival of Guys and Dolls – by which time he had also established himself on both the big and small screen.

On TV, he won widespread acclaim for his memorable performance in Dennis Potter’s BBC series Pennies From Heaven, in which he played a travelling sheet music salesman caught up in Broadway fantasies.

While his big screen breakthrough came in 1980, when he played Harold Shand in the British gangster film The Long Good Friday, alongside Helen Mirren. That film’s final scene is the one most commonly referred to as a touching point for the strength of Hoskins’ range as an actor.

His stock rose still further in 1986, when he landed Golden Globe and BAFTA awards for his portrayal of George in Neil Jordan’s film Mona Lisa, as well as an Academy Award nomination and best actor at the Cannes Film Festival.

While his versatility was underlined when he took the role of Eddie Valiant in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which was a landmark film at the time for the way in which it blended live action and animation. Hoskins was again nominated for a Golden Globe.

The years that followed saw him establishing himself firmly in Hollywood with a range of roles that included Spielberg’s Hook, one half of the Super Mario Bros, a serial killer in Felicia’s Journey, a romantic interest alongside Cher in Mermaids and a hero detective alongside Tom Berenger in Shattered.

He also took up directing, first in 1988 with The Raggedy Rawney and again in 1995 with family film Rainbow.

On British TV, he also became synonymous with the phrase “It’s good to talk” after appearing in a British Telecom ad campaign.

Again, his versatility continued to be underlined with roles as wide-ranging as Benito Mussolini, Nikita Khrushchev and FBI boss J Edgar Hoover, although he lost out on the opportunity to play Al Capone in The Untouchables when Robert De Niro became available.

Hoskins received a third Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor for his role in Mrs Henderson Presents, a 2005 British comedy directed by Stephen Frears and starring Dame Judi Dench.

More recently, his role as a publican in Jimmy McGovern’s drama serial The Street earned him the best actor trophy at the 2010 International Emmys.

And he starred alongside Ian McShane and Eddie Marsan as a dwarf in Snow White & The Huntsman, in what proved to be his final role before retirement.

Away from the screen, Hoskins was also a playwright who wrote under the name Robert Williams.

He was twice married and had four children.