Hal Holbrook’s Greatest Acting Accomplishment Will Never Be Equaled

The actor, who passed away at the age of 95 last month, portrayed Mark Twain for eight decades

Hal Holbrook
Hal Holbrook in his one-man show "Mark Twain Tonight" in 1984
Mark Junge/Getty Images

Actor Hal Holbrook has died at the age of 95. He passed away on January 23 in his home in Beverly Hills, CA, according to the New York Times.

The Cleveland, OH native won five Emmys over his illustrious career and garnered an Oscar nomination at the age of 82 for his work in Into the Wild. His best-known portrayal, however, came from his six decades of work as Mark Twain, first as a part of ensemble in the late 1940s, then as a solo theater performance in 1950s, and later (remaining as a one-man show) playing to Broadway and national television audiences through 2017.

Holbrook’s Oscar moment made him the oldest man at the time to receive a nomination, but his filmography before and after that Academy recognition was varied and prestigious. While already recognized for his theater and TV work, his national fame rose after roles in the Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry film Magnum Force (1973), as Deep Throat in All the President’s Men (1976), and, later, portraying Republican Preston Blair in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012). He was also a series regular on popular sitcoms like Designing Women and Evening Shade.

The actor’s one-man Twain show, however, will serve as his enduring legacy and one that may never be equaled. Holbrook first developed the role as part of a larger cast in the late ’40s; according to the Times, he initially told his mentor, “Ed, I think this Mark Twain thing is pretty corny.” But after rediscovering the Tom Sawyer author’s work a few years later, he remained committed to the portrayal in a serious of solo productions that landed him on Ed Sullivan, The Tonight Show and Broadway.

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