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The Nostalgia Files: A Tribute to Bob Hoskins

On April 29th, 2014, the entertainment community lost a truly gifted and likable performer. Robert William “Bob” Hoskins was an English actor, director, and comedian who had a wonderful and diverse career spanning more than 4 decades. Known mainly for his film roles, Hoskins’ on-screen personas were often that of gruff, down-to-Earth individuals who would get themselves into sticky situations. He is perhaps best known for the Robert Zemeckis film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where he acted alongside cartoon characters. This 1988 film noir comedy blended live-action Hoskins with animated characters, a very revolutionary form of film technology at the time.

Born in England in 1942, Hoskins had a humble beginning. His father was a bookkeeper and truck driver and his mother was a cook and nursery school teacher. After leaving school at age 15 and taking a string of odd jobs, Hoskins eventually found his calling for acting at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent. He landed a small role in a production of Romeo and Juliet and this marked the beginning of Hoskins’ long and brilliant acting career.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Hoskins did some television work and appeared in a number of film projects. He gained acclaim for his role in 1980’s The Long Good Friday, where he played a London gangster with aspirations of becoming a legitimate businessman. The film won a few awards and shot Hoskins into stardom. Things were looking good and during this time, Hoskins was able to snag other interesting roles. In 1985, he had a small but entertaining role in Terry Gilliam’s bizarre dystopian film Brazil, where he played a zany electrician.

Though things seemed to be going well for Hoskins during this time, things were only going to get better. In 1986, he starred in Mona Lisa, a dark mystery about an ex-con who gets involved with a high-class call girl. For his performance, Hoskins was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor and he won and was nominated for a plethora of other awards.

If there is any film Hoskins is best known for, it would arguably have to be 1988’s s Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Not only did this film introduce an innovative way of storytelling but it had one of Hoskins’ best and most fun on-screen performances. Taking place in Hollywood circa 1947, Hoskins plays Eddie Valiant, a grumpy private detective hired by a film studio when a “toon” named Roger Rabbit is suspected of murder. With a crazy premise and even crazier special effects, Who Framed Roger Rabbit stands as not only a fun film but the beginning of mixing real actors with animated ones, a visual effects process that has been used in other films after it like Space Jam and Cool World.

After Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it was only a matter of time that Hoskins would work with Steven Spielberg in a directorial capacity and they did just that in 1991’s Hook, a “sequel” to Peter Pan. The film shows Pan, now Peter Banning (Robin Williams), as a middle-aged lawyer who has grown up and lost touch with his exuberant younger self. This then gives Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) the perfect opportunity to kidnap Banning’s kids out of revenge for the severing of his hand. Hoskins plays Smee, Hook’s right-hand man, and he assists Hook with various things including making announcements to the other pirates. Hoskins totally transformed himself and embraced the role of Smee. You can tell he had fun shooting this film. In the film, he is delightfully oafish and downright funny. Though Hook received mixed reviews and wasn’t a box office smash, it definitely gained a cult following, especially among those who were kids during the time of the film’s release. It’s  a dazzling epic that is exceptionally entertaining and full of charming performances, especially from Hoskins.

Another film Hoskins is well known for is based on a popular video game franchise. In 1993, Hoskins and John Leguizamo starred in Super Mario Bros., the story of two plumbers from Brooklyn who get caught up in an inter-dimensional adventure involving a beautiful princess, an evil reptile, and a society of what appear to be punk mutants. The film was a bomb at the box office and received poor reviews. With a property as lucrative as Super Mario Bros., it is a real shame that the film didn’t perform better. Hoskins has said that the film is the “worst thing [he] ever did,” but cult fans disagree. At the time, there probably wasn’t a more perfect actor to play Mario than Hoskins. He was short, stocky, and full of energy. Plus for an Englishman, he had a great Brooklyn accent!

With such a diverse and memorable array of roles under his belt, Hoskins will be forever remembered. He wasn’t a pretty-boy action star, or your typical leading man. He was just your average Joe, a regular guy who achieved the extraordinary. Who Framed Roger Rabbit alone made the man a star and he continued to perform up until 2012 just after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. His final TV role coincidentally was that of the lovable pirate Smee in the mini-series Neverland. Returning to this role was something he and his fans longed to see. His final role was in the Kristen Stewart/Chris Hemsworth fantasy epic Snow White and the Huntsman, where he played Muir, a dwarf with precognitive  powers. Shortly after this, Hoskins died of pneumonia and he left behind a rich legacy that not only his family should be proud of but his many adoring fans should as well.

— Randall Unger


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