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Bob Hoskins

Actor

Actor

Born: October 26, 1942; Died: April 29, 2014

Bob Hoskins, who has died aged 71, was an actor best known for playing Cockneys and gangsters on film; in the role which brought him to widespread attention and for which he probably remained best known, in The Long Good Friday, he was both.

Hoskins's range was wider and his talents more considerable than that blunt summary suggests. He was highly capable in comic roles and in novel or unexpected formats - as in Who Killed Roger Rabbit, Super Mario Bros. and The Wind in the Willows - and passably American when the occasion demanded. And in all his best performances, he could convey vulnerability and be affecting even while he conveyed thinly veiled menace or latent violence.

He joked that he lost out on major film roles to Danny DeVito, for whom he was often mistaken in Hollywood, and who would probably play him in a film of his life. He might also have had Robert De Niro's role in The Untouchables, having been put on standby to play Al Capone if the American dropped out. When filming started, the director Brian De Palma sent him a cheque for £20,000, thanking him for his time. "I phoned him up," Hoskins recalled, "and said 'Brian, if you've ever got any films you don't want me in, son, just give me a call'."

If the anecdotes revealed his deprecation of his place as a jobbing actor and his acceptance of the vagaries of Hollywood, they also demonstrated the high regard in which his work was held. His career never quite put him in the superstar bracket, but his position as one of the most reliable character actors of his generation was never in doubt, and he was seldom short of work, and that work never short of acclaim.

Nor was he shy of the compensations for actors who had public recognition: in Britain, he was as well known - perhaps better known - for his advertisements for British Telecom, in which he declared "It's good to talk", as for his other work.

Amongst many plaudits, Bob Hoskins received BAFTA nominations for The Long Good Friday (1980), The Honorary Consul (1983) and Mona Lisa (1986), for which he won best actor and also received an Academy Award nomination, and for Dennis Potter's Pennies from Heaven (1978) on TV. He won the International Emmy for Best Actor for his work in Jimmy McGovern's The Street (2009).

Robert Williams Hoskins (junior) was born, not in London, but in the west Sussex market town of Bury St Edmonds. Within a fortnight, however, he had moved with his father, a clerk and lorry driver and his mother Elsie, a dinner lady and cleaner to Finsbury Park in north London.

Young Bob didn't thrive at school and left, aged 15, for a series of jobs. He dropped out of an accountancy course to be a doorman, window cleaner and, improbably, fire eater; a theatrical talent encouraged by his friend, the actor Roger Frost.

But when, while working behind the bar at the Unity Theatre in 1968, he went to help Frost read before an audition, Hoskins found himself cast in the leading role. Thereafter, he was seldom out of work.

In the early 1970s, he was roped into television staples like Crown Court, Play for Today and Softly, Softly, usually as an East End taxi driver, market trader or gangland heavy. But his role as Arthur Parker in Pennies from Heaven brought him a wider regard.

When he was cast as Iago in Jonathan Miller's adaptation of Othello (1981) for the BBC, he met Linda Banwell, whom he married the following year. He had had a messy separation from his first wife, Jane Livesey, with whom he had two children, several years before.

By this stage his career was taking off. The Long Good Friday, in which he played an old-fashioned East End gangster trying to carve out a slice of the development of London's Docklands, was not only highly prescient, but made evident his range as an actor and caught the attention of Hollywood. He was effective in minor roles in The Wall (1982), The Honorary Consul, The Cotton Club (Francis Ford Coppola, 1984) and Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985), and remarkably good as George in Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa (1986).

Who Killed Roger Rabbit (1988) in which he played the lead against the voluptuous, but animated, Jessica Rabbit, was the most successful of his Hollywood movies, though it won him lucrative roles in a series of other films. He was fine in Spielberg's Hook (1991) as Smee (and in the television sequel Neverland) and opposite Cher in Mermaids (1990). His greatest regret was taking the lead in Super Mario Bros. but, though the film was terrible, his performance was in fact perfectly good.

The same could be said of other unrewarding roles, such as his cameo, as Ginger Spice's alter ego, in Spiceworld (1997) and his turn as J Edgar Hoover in Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995). A couple of dozen other films presumably paid the mortgage, but he was never less than reliable. He directed two pictures himself: The Raggedy Rawney (1988) and Rainbow (1995).

He was, however, especially powerful in Shane Meadows' Twenty Four Seven (1997) as a clapped-out boxing coach, and in Last Orders (2001), while in 2010 he shone as a union rep in Made in Dagenham. His last major film role was (with CGI assistance) as one of the dwarfs in Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), most of whom were played by distinguished British character actors.

That year, he announced that he was suffering from Parkinson's disease, and intended to retire from acting.

He is survived by his wife Linda, their two children, and two children from his previous marriage.

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