Bob Hoskins, one of Britain’s most beloved and unlikely film stars, has passed away of pneumonia at the age of 71, his agent has said.
Known for his diminutive stature and proud cockney upbringing, Hoskins first came to public notice as the lead in Dennis Potter’s 1978 series Pennies From Heaven. He played Arthur Parker, a traveling sheet music salesman frustrated by his lot in life. As in many of Potter’s dramas, Hoskins’ character often descends into haunting fantasy sequences scored to classic songs.
It showed him to be a character actor capable of being charming one minute, dangerous the next, and utterly melancholic the one after.
The 80s saw Hoskins come into his own as a star of the big screen. After a supporting role in Zulu Dawn, he was cast as Harold Shand in the London gangland classic The Long Good Friday. As the boss of an East End crime syndicate, Shand was a man of vision who saw an opportunity to go legit and build develop the then-derelict London Docklands into a venue for a future Olympics (vision indeed).
Despite his best intentions -and a genuine love for his country- his criminal connections finally prove too much for him to handle. As crime films go, it’s one of the very best.
While most fans remember Long Good Friday, his best -and most acclaimed- performance came a few years later in Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa. He plays a low level crook fresh out of prison. To help keep his nose clean, his old boss (Michael Caine) assigns him a job driving around a high-priced escort (Cathy Tyson). Despite the difference in their age and background (and other things), Hoskins’ character can’t help falling for her, which naturally lands him in trouble with the powers-that-be.
It was a perfect role for him. He was an inarticulate man capable of bad things, whose only weakness was his heart. It’s truly a heartbreaking performance.
In America, Hoskins found great success — also playing tough guys with a heart of gold. It could be argued that Who Framed Roger Rabbit only works because of his physical performance. To prepare for the part of private eye Eddie Valiant, Hoskins watched his infant daughter play with her imaginary friends. Whatever the method, the results speak for themselves: with a lesser actor in his role, we might never have believed that animated characters co-exist with humans.
We could go on listing his great roles: as Cher’s love interest in Mermaids, playing Mr Smee in Hook, or as Mario in the ill-fated Super Mario Bros movie. He was one of those actors who was always great, even when his films were less than awesome.
Having appeared on-screen as recently as 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, Hoskins suddenly announced his retirementin 2012. He revealed that he’d been battling Parkinson’s disease and was taking the opportunity to spend more time with his family.
It was sad to see such a talent step back from the spotlight, and it comes as an even bigger shock to hear of his passing.
He was truly one of this country’s all-time greats.