Hal “Mark Twain” Holbrook passes at 95

Actor Hal Holbrook

Five-time Emmy-winning actor, Hal Holbrook, who was famed for portraying Mark Twain for decades, has died at age 95. Holbrook died on January 23 at his home in Beverly Hills, his representative, Steve Rohr, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Born on February 17, 1925, in Cleveland, Ohio, he went on to have a highly decorated screen and stage career that spanned more than six decades with over 130 credits and innumerable accolades.

Holbrook was best known for playing Mark Twain in his one-man stage show Mark Twain Tonight!, which first played on Broadway in 1966 and earned Holbrook a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. A television showing of the stage show earned him an Emmy nomination a year later, he reprised the role on the Main Stem in 1977 and again in 2005. Holbrook would portray Twain onstage some 20-30 times a year into his mid-80s.

Holbrook played former U.S. president Abraham Lincoln on television in Carl Sandburg’s 1974 mini-series Lincoln, which earned him one of five Emmy awards. His four other Emmy wins were for Portrait of America in 1989, a double win for Pueblo in 1974 and The Bold Ones: The Senator in 1971.

Playing Deep Throat in 1974’s All the President’s Men was a highlight of his film career, and he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Sean Penn’s 2007 feature Into the Wild. His dozens of movie roles also included Wild in the Streets (1968), The Great White Hope (1970), They Only Kill Their Masters (1972), first Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force (1973), Midway (1976), Capricorn One (1977), The Fog (1980), Wall Street (1987), Fletch Lives (1989), The Firm (1993), Men of Honor (2000), That Evening Sun (2009) and Lincoln (2012).

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Holbrook appeared in various other TV productions, including the 1980s sitcom Designing Women, where he played friend to his real-life wife, Dixie Carter. His character on that show was killed off so he could take one of the starring roles in another CBS show, Evening Shade starring Burt Reynolds, in which he played Reynolds’ ill-tempered father-in-law. He appeared in 79 episodes of the show from 1990-94.

Holbrook also directed four episodes of Designing Women.

In 2006 the actor guest starred on The Sopranos as a terminally ill patient who imparts some wisdom to the hospitalized Tony Soprano.

As Holbrook approached his mid-80s, he remained a busy actor, including multi-episode appearances on FX’s Sons of Anarchy and NBC’s The Event. In 2011 he was also in an independent film, the thriller Good Day for It, in whose conception he was intimately involved, and he appeared as a science teacher who knows the truth in Gus Van Sant’s anti-fracking film Promised Land.

Holbrook’s memoir Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain was published in September 2011.

In 2014, Holbrook was the subject of the documentary Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey, directed by Scott Teems, which premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival and depicted Holbrook’s career portraying Twain. Holbrook appeared as Red Hudmore on the final season of Bones in 2017, and appeared in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy and Hawaii Five-0 that same year. In September 2017, Holbrook announced his retirement from Mark Twain Tonight.

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His marriage to his first wife ended in divorce in 1965. The following year, he married actress Carol Eve Rossen. They divorced in 1983, and in 1984 he married Carter and remained married to her until her death due to complications from endometrial cancer in 2010.

He is survived by three children and two stepdaughters, as well as four grandchildren.