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Hal Holbrook, Actor Acclaimed For Portraying Mark Twain, Dies At 95

Hal Holbrook

Hal Holbrook arrives to the premiere of “Planes: Fire & Rescue” at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles, Calif., on July 15, 2014. David McNew / Reuters file

Hal Holbrook, an award-winning actor acclaimed for his one-man portrayal of American literary legend Mark Twain, has died. He was 95.

Holbrook died on Jan. 23 at his home in Beverly Hills, California, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. The publication said his death was confirmed late on Monday by his assistant, Joyce Cohen.


In 2008, at age 82, Holbrook became the oldest male performer ever nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in “Into the Wild.”

But it was his recreation of the revered American novelist, humorist and social critic in “Mark Twain Tonight” that brought Holbrook his greatest fame. It earned him a Tony award for his Broadway performance in 1966 and the first of his 10 Emmy nominations in 1967.

Holbrook was still a young man in the mid-1950s when he crafted the role of Twain, who died in 1910 at age 75, and his first big exposure came when he took the act to the popular “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

He performed it for former President Dwight Eisenhower and in an international tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department. He continued with his Twain act well into his 90s.

“Mark Twain is something precious to me. It’s my side arm through life,” Holbrook told NPR in 2007.

Hal Holbrook performs as Mark Twain in his one-man show | Image: The Pantagraph / Lori Ann Cook-Neisler

Holbrook said he took on the Twain persona after trying to find a figure to portray in a one-man play. He read a few pages of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and said he felt a connection.

He developed the act in New York City nightclubs and first took it to Broadway in 1959.

With makeup, wig, bushy white moustache, white suit and a cigar, Holbrook bore a striking resemblance to the author at age 70 as he delivered a monologue drawn from Twain’s writings and speeches on subjects ranging from religion to politics to human frailties. He said he had performed the show every year since and in every state, as well as around the world.

He later gained international fame for his performance as Deep Throat in the 1976 film All the President’s Men. He played Abraham Lincoln in the 1976 miniseries Lincoln and 1985 miniseries North and South. He has also appeared in such films as Julia (1977), The Fog (1980), Creepshow (1982), Wall Street (1987), The Firm (1993), Hercules (1997), and Men of Honor (2000).

Holbrook’s role as Ron Franz in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (2007) earned him both Academy Award and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor. In 2009, Holbrook received critical acclaim for his performance as recently retired farmer Abner Meecham in the independent film That Evening Sun.

In 2003, Holbrook was honoured with the National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush.

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Hal HolbrookMark Twain
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