Hal Holbrook, the versatile actor of stage, films and television who over a six-decade career portrayed characters as diverse as Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and the Watergate mole “Deep Throat,” has died at age 95.
Holbrook’s ex-wife, Carol Rossen, confirmed the actor’s death to the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times reported that he died at his Beverly Hills home on Jan. 23.
Holbrook, who was born in Cleveland in 1925, was a five-time Emmy winner as well as an Oscar nominee in 2008 for Best Supporting Actor in “Into the Wild” — playing the role of a lonely widower at age 82 and becoming the oldest man at the time to receive an Oscar nomination.
He also won a Tony in 1966 for his portrayal of Twain.
Holbrook won Emmys in 1971 for “The Senator”; in 1973 for “Pueblo” (winning twice that year, for best lead actor in a drama and actor of the year in a special); in 1974 for the miniseries “Sandberg’s Lincoln”; and in 1989 for outstanding performance in international programming for the Alaska episode of “Portrait of America.”
He also earned an Emmy nomination in 1972 for “That Certain Summer.” Over the years, he was also regular on the TV series “Designing Women” (which starred his third wife, Dixie Carter), and “Evening Shade,” starring Burt Reynolds.
In 1974, he played “Deep Throat” in “All The President’s Men,” portraying the shadowy informant who guided Robert Redford’s Bob Woodward and Dustin Hoffman’s Carl Bernstein — playing Washington Post reporters — closer to exposing the Watergate scandal.
Among Holbrook’s other film credits were “The Group” (1966), “Wild in the Streets,” (1968), “Magnum Force,” (1973), “Capricorn One” (1977), “Julia” (1977), “The Star Chamber” (1983), “Wall Street” (1987), “The Firm” (1993) and “The Majestic (2001).”
Holbrook’s many stage performances ranged widely as well — from King Lear to the hard-luck salesman Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”
But it was as Twain that Holbrook made his most enduring mark.
His lengthy and famed link to the writer and humorist began in the 1940s, when he and his then-wife performed in a two-person revue that toured the Southwest. Holbrook’s Twain portrayal, which began as a sketch called “An Encounter With an Interviewer,” became a one-man show in 1954 and eventually a much-lauded off-Broadway play called “Mark Twain Tonight!” in 1959. Life magazine called it “the greatest theatrical surprise of the year.”
He brought the one-man play to Broadway to more rave reviews in 1966 — and won a Tony for Best Actor in a play. A year later he took the role to television in a CBS production that garnered Holbrook an primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Drama.
As late as 2009, at age 85, Holbrook continued to portray Twain on stage as many as 20 to 30 times a year, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“I’ve just become more and more impressed with him,” Holbrook told the Boston Globe in 1997. “The same truths that captured me when I started in 1954 are even more apparent today.”
Holbrook was the middle child between two sisters whose parents abandoned the family when he was 2. The children went to live with their paternal grandparents in Massachusetts. Later in life, Holbrook said that left a mark that sent him off to a career in acting.
“I realized there was an imp in me that wanted to say, `Here I am. Here I am,”’ he told the Hartford Courant, adding that he “was frightened, but … wanted to be noticed.”
Holbrook was divorced twice. He had two children, Victoria and David, with his first wife; and a daughter, Eve, with his second wife, Rossen. His third wife, Carter, died in 2010.