Hal Holbrook, the veteran character actor who made a name for himself channeling Mark Twain and whose credits stretch back decades, died last month at the age of 95. His longtime assistant confirmed his death to The New York Times on Monday.
With his distinctive features, gravelly voice and ability to convey a world of emotional depth with merely a look, Holbrook built a stellar career on the stage and screen dating back to the 1950s, becoming one of those actors nearly everyone recognizes even if they never knew him by name. His film credits include numerous classics like All The President's Men, The Firm, and recent successes like Into the Wild, but he's perhaps best known to genre fans for his roles as Father Malone in John Carpenter's The Fog and Henry Northrup in "The Crate" segment of George A. Romero and Stephen King's Creepshow.
A native of Cleveland who spend much of his childhood in Massachusetts, Holbrook served in World War II before returning to Ohio's Denison University as a drama major. It was there that his mentor encouraged him to incorporate the great American writer Mark Twain into a stage show he was preparing. It turned out to be good advice. Holbrook's dedication to transforming into Twain won him acclaim and admirers, and eventually he developed the one-man show Mark Twain Tonight!, which caught the attention of Ed Sullivan and landed him his national television breakthrough in 1956. Numerous acting roles followed, but Holbrook never left Twain behind. He continued to return to the one-man show throughout the decades, eventually playing the role more than 2,000 times and winning an Emmy and a Tony for various versions of the performance.
Across the decades that followed, whether he was playing King Lear on the stage or Abraham Lincoln on television or voicing a character in Disney's Hercules, Holbrook endeared himself to audiences as a thoughtful, warm, often very funny actor. His expressive eyes and soulful demeanor meant that he could play everyone from open authority figures to men brimming with regret to comic relief, and it won him consitent employment and consistent acclaim in a variety of genres. Though he's often recognized for non-genre work, his performance as Father Malone in The Fog remains one of his best, as he portrays a man who carries the burden of a whole town's sin with him, and eventually faces a reckoning for it. His other film credits include Lincoln, Water for Elephants, The Majestic, Wall Street, Midway, Magnum Force, and more.
In a career that spanned more than 60 years and dozens of roles, Holbrook was honored with a Tony Award, five Primetime Emmy Awards (including a special award), an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Into the Wild (at the time, the oldest person to even earn that honor), and in 2003, the National Humanities Medal.
Holbrook is survived by his children Victoria, David, and Eve, his stepchildren Ginna and Mary, two grandchildren and two step-grandchildren. He leaves behind a legacy of dozens of great performances, warmth, and passion for storytelling.