In 2012, Bob Hoskins announced his retirement from acting after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease the previous year. Yesterday, having contracted pneumonia and surrounded by family, he passed away, aged 71.
“One of Britain’s best-loved actors, Hoskins was known for his gruff bonhomie, and career that spanned more than 30 years,” writes Catherine Shoard in the Guardian, the paper that’s been checking in on him periodically for years. “A bullfrog of a man with a boxer’s nose and a right gob on him, he’s hardly your conventional lead,” wrote Simon Hattenstone in 2007. “He does hard bastard and soft bastard equally well…. Not surprisingly, acting wasn’t his first job—it came along by accident one evening in London in the late 1960s. Hoskins turned up with his mate for an audition at the old trade union theater, the Unity. He was just there for a drink, it was his friend who wanted the part. Right, next, said the casting director, pointing to Hoskins. Before he knew it, he found himself on the stage reading from the script of a play about a young thug. He got the lead, and that was that.”
“Ten years later, he starred in his first TV drama, Dennis Potter’s Pennies From Heaven, and in 1980 he made his major film debut with The Long Good Friday,” noted Rosanna Greenstreet in 2011. “He went on to star in The Cotton Club in 1984 and Mona Lisa in 1986, a performance that earned him an Oscar nomination.
In 2012, Patrick Barkham spoke with Hoskins about two of his last roles: “Following Made in Dagenham, Outside Bet is the latest British film to feature the once-unfashionable subjects of workers’ rights and union disputes…. Hoskins is all for films prodding a younger generation not well-versed in collective action on workers’ rights. ‘I think there’s going to be a rise in union action,’ he predicts. ‘It’s good that people should know about it. If they don’t read about it, they should go and see a film about it. If you look at Made in Dagenham, Barbara Castle brought in a law to make it illegal to give women less pay than men in 1970 but they are still doing it. Somewhere along the line someone is taking the piss!'”
Back to 2001, to Lynn Barber: “He swept through the 80s with a run of good films—The Long Good Friday, 1980; The Cotton Club, 1984; Mona Lisa, 1986; The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, 1987. But Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988, was a nightmare to make, and left him exhausted, and perhaps disillusioned with Hollywood…. What is so frustrating is that he can be so good. Do you remember that scene towards the end of The Long Good Friday where he kills his son, and his face seems to dissolve, like a Francis Bacon, and turn into a baboon’s snout?”
“After the news was announced just after 1.30pm on Wednesday, tributes to the actor were posted on Twitter,” reports the Telegraph. “Stephen Fry said: ‘Oh no, Bob Hoskins. Gone? That’s awful news. The Long Good Friday one of the best British movies of the modern era. A marvelous man.'”
In 2012, the Playlist looked back on five of his best performances.
Updates: Back to the Guardian, where Xan Brooks calls Hoskins “one of the most durable—and durably interesting—actors in British cinema. In good films or bad, Hoskins was impossible to ignore; a foursquare dynamo who always made his presence felt…. The critic Pauline Kael billed him as ‘a testicle on legs,’ a barbed put-down which nonetheless nailed the man’s peculiar, rumble-tumble virility. The actor, meanwhile, was wont to describe himself as ‘five-foot-six cubic,’ as if he were as utilitarian as a house-brick. I prefer to see him as a kind of unglamorous cultural cornerstone. Take Hoskins away and the whole structure is weakened.”
Noel Murray at the Dissolve: “He leaves behind a long and varied filmography, dotted with broad comedies, sensitive dramas, and straight genre pictures. Hoskins pivoted easily—and egolessly—from playing the hero to filling out an ensemble, and just when it seemed like he’d settled back into a career of supporting roles in movies like Hook, Nixon, and Maid in Manhattan, Hoskins would turn back up as the star of a Twenty Four Seven, a Felicia’s Journey, or a Mrs. Henderson Presents, and he’d remind moviegoers why he was so special.”
For Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, “one credit in particular stands out from Hoskins’ last burst of output over the past 10 years: The Baron, the stern, feisty manager of a Chelsea strip club on the verge of going under…. Over the years, [Abel Ferrara’s] Go Go Tales  has accrued a steady amount of praise for its unlikely mixture of Ferrara’s typical gritty New York setting and a startling degree of humanism, a balance shouldered to a large degree by Dafoe. And yet Hoskins is the one secretly running the whole show.”
Slate‘s Dana Stevens looks back to Hoskins’s performance as Iago in the 1981 BBC version of Othello. It’s “a definitive Iago precisely because it’s so embodied and specific. Without classical stage training or higher education—the son of a lorry driver and a nursery school teacher, Hoskins left school at 15—he grasps and deepens every nuance of the part. His Iago is at every moment both an earthy, clever, quick-witted charmer and a repellently cynical, woman-hating, racist creep.”
For the Telegraph‘s Tim Robey, Hoskins’s “best part this side of the millennium… was a reunion with his old friend Michael Caine, with whom he worked a half-dozen times: he’s crucial and terrific propping up the bar as Ray, the professional gambler and full-time boozer in Fred Schepisi’s Last Orders (2001). In that film, time’s called for Caine, his ashes scattered over Margate. Codgerish to the last, the sly old Hoskins has beaten him to it.”
“Even some of the most respectful obits for the late, great Bob Hoskins… contain snarky remarks about Super Mario Bros., which Hoskins himself once described as ‘the worst thing I ever did,'” notes Joe Leydon. “So I felt compelled to dig up my original May 29, 1993 review of the infamous box-office bust, since I honestly didn’t remember it as being that bad. And sure enough, I didn’t write what I would describe as a scorched-earth pan. But… well, it wasn’t a full-throated roar of approval, either.”
The Guardian‘s collected tributes from Stephen Woolley, Shane Meadows and Helen Mirren. And for Peter Bradshaw, Hoskins’s best performance was in Atom Egoyan‘s Felicia’s Journey. He “plays Joseph, a decaying bachelor who lives in a big, musty, fusty house in Birmingham” and “befriends a young runaway, Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), a 17-year-old girl who has come to the city from Ireland. With subtle intensity, Hoskins shows how Joseph is part predator, part victim: he does not have overt designs on young Felicia, but clearly wants something from her, something that he cannot explain to her, to us or to himself. His stare is deeply unsettling: is it malevolent?… In many ways, Hoskins’s Joseph Hilditch is the flip side of his George, that wounded, agonised ex-con in Mona Lisa who is given the Greeneian task of spying on the woman (Tyson) with whom he is falling in love.”
Updates, 5/1: “In the card pack of late 20th century British screen stars born within the (notional) sound of Bow bells, Hoskins was the joker—the wild card—to contemporaries such as Michael Caine and Ray Winstone,” writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. “Whenever Hoskins seemed to have fixed on a screen persona, he changed it.” And “he had the self-reinventing energy to act in a brace of low-budget features that helped promote the filmmaking career of Shane (This Is England) Meadows, to play a startlingly good Mr Micawber (Nicholas Nickleby, 2002) and to write and direct two distinctive, if not quite distinguished, feature films (The Raggedy Rawney, 1988; Rainbow, 1996).”
“Hoskins was a natural, a performer who expressed a strange admixture of pugnacity and vulnerability in every role,” writes Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir. “Hoskins was always enjoyable to watch, even in the terrible movies he ultimately made… but he was never better than in his early career, before producers began to pigeonhole and characterize him.”
Back to Who Framed Roger Rabbit for a moment. John Anderson in the New York Times: “In a 2009 interview with The Telegraph of London, Mr. Hoskins said his doctor had advised him to take five months off after finishing the film. ‘I think I went a bit mad while working on that,’ he said. ‘Lost my mind. The voice of the rabbit was there just behind the camera all the time. You had to know where the rabbit would be at every angle. Then there was Jessica Rabbit and all these weasels. The trouble was, I had learnt how to hallucinate.'”
“Ridiculous comic antics? Yes, he could do that,” writes Calum Marsh for Time Out: “Midway through the film, he hurls himself into a demented bout of song and dance (and self-harm) worthy of Jerry Lewis. But he could also do dry wit, pathos, despair, unbridled rage and resignation—sometimes within the span of a single picture.”
Update, 5/3: “I watched Twenty Four Seven again late last night, after hearing of Hoskins’s passing,” writes Evan Louison at Hammer to Nail. “I couldn’t help feel that after a life’s work so predicated towards violence and restraint, towards the understanding of those two vastly disparate poles, that there could ever have been a more appropriate last dance for the man at hand. I hope we’ll all remember him the same. A soft soul, perhaps, but burning brightly.”
Update, 5/5: “I first met Bob Hoskins at a party when I was nine,” recalls actor and director Dexter Fletcher in the Guardian. “It was good to connect with the man from On the Move, in which he played a character who couldn’t read. He was likable and open, just like on the telly. A few years later, we worked together on The Long Good Friday. For me, as a child actor, it was an inspirational lesson in acting and one that will stay with me for ever.”