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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

R.I.P. Hal Holbrook, Emmy- and Tony-winning actor

Hal Holbrook in 2013
Hal Holbrook in 2013
Photo: Jason Merritt (Getty Images)

Actor, writer, and director Hal Holbrook has died. The five-time Emmy winner passed away Jan. 23 in Beverly Hills, his personal assistant, Joyce Cohen, told The New York Times on Monday night; though no cause of death was given at the time of the announcement. He was 95.

Holbrook was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised by his grandparents. While attending Denison University, where he worked on an honors project about Mark Twain that inspired him to create his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight!, which he would perform for six decades. His passion project eventually made its way to Broadway in 1966 (winning Holbrook a Tony) and onto CBS as a televised special in 1967 (resulting in Holbrook’s first Emmy nomination). Throughout his career—which included memorable roles in films like Wild In The Streets, Magnum Force, All The President’s Men, and Wall Street; as well as appearances on TV series such as his late wife Dixie Carter’s Designing Women, The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, Grey’s Anatomy—the actor continued to tour his production of Mark Twain Tonight! until his retirement in 2017 at the age of 92.

Holbrook won his first Emmy in 1971 while starring on the NBC drama series The Bold Ones: The Senator, and took home his second lead-actor Emmy in 1974 for playing Commander Lloyd Bucher in the ABC telefilm Pueblo (he also won the special award of “Actor Of The Year” for the performance). He returned to the Emmys stage when he won in 1976 for the limited series Sandburg’s Lincoln, and again in 1989 for his work on Portrait Of America. In 2008, at 82 years old, Holbrook broke the record for the oldest male actor to be nominated for an Oscar when he was recognized for Into The Wild. (All The Money In The World’s Christopher Plummer was 88 when he was nominated in 2018; Titanic’s Gloria Stuart was 87 when she was nominated in 1998.)


An outspoken liberal, Holbrook infamously turned down an opportunity to work with PBS on an adaptation of Mark Twain Tonight! after the network asked him to leave out a section from Huckleberry Finn that included use of the N-word. “Anyone who thinks that word [being used so often] is an accident is close to being foolish,” The Hollywood Reporter points out he said in a 2012 interview. “Every time you read that word in the book it reminds you that you have to face who is racist. The finger is pointing at you. And me.”

A.V. Club Editor in Chief...but really just a She-Ra, Schitt’s Creek, Grey’s Anatomy, Survivor, Big Brother, Top Chef, The Good Place superfan.

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