British actor Bob Hoskins has died of pneumonia at age 71. Early in his career, he made a name for himself in British film and television, most notably The Long Good Friday, and Mona Lisa, where he established his reputation for complex, hard-nosed, gritty roles.
His major introduction for American audiences was in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which was recently named by Time Out New York as one of the top 100 animated films of all time. The role combined his talents for deep, tough-guy types with a genuine talent for comedy. Hoskins role as Smee in 1991’s Hook further endeared him to the generation that grew up in the late ’80s/early ’90s.
He continued to work steadily for the rest of his career, notably in Mrs. Henderson Presents and Made in Dagenham. His final role was in Snow White and the Huntsman, after which he retired from acting in 2012 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
As a huge fan of Hook as a youngster, I knew Hoskins only as Smee for a very long time. Hoskins performance as the doting, put-upon right-hand man/doormat gave the entire pirate band a heart that subtly put 7-year-old me at ease, knowing that even if the kids were trapped with the pirates, maybe they’d be all right with Smee around.
Hoskins injected the same underlying emotional warmth to almost all of his characters. Though I expanded my knowledge of his important works later in life, I was still astounded by his ability to infuse even the dirtiest and toughest of his characters with vulnerability and honesty. For me, his stand-out work is in Neil Jordan’s 1986 film Mona Lisa (for which he won his first BAFTA and only Oscar nomination) as George, a man recently freed from prison who takes a job as a driver for a high-priced prostitute. Again, I was astounded by his ability to simultaneously embody George’s aggression and his apprehension.
If you’re not familiar with Hoskins’ work, there’s no time like the present to begin appreciating his art.
Starting points: The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Brazil, Hook (for old time’s sake), Mrs. Henderson Presents, and Made in Dagenham