Philip Baker Hall Dies, Aged 90

Philip Baker Hall

by James White |
Updated on

Philip Baker Hall, an actor who could convincingly play everything from a CIA director to an NYPD cop chasing down unpaid library book penalties, has died. He was 90.

Hall's achievements are all the more impressive as he didn't even decide to get into acting until the age of 30. Born in Toledo, Ohio on September 30, 1931, he served as a US Army translator in Germany and worked as a high school teacher before trying his hand at performing.

After building a career on the New York stage, he relocated to Los Angeles and made his big-screen debut with an uncredited role in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film Zabriskie Point.

He also spent years as a guest star on shows such as Good Times and M_A_S_H, but drew widespread notice on the stage for his performance as disgraced former President Nixon in the 1983 one-man play_ Secret Honor* at the Los Angeles Actors’ Theatre. He reprised the role on stage in Boston, Washington and off-Broadway, where he earned a Drama Desk nomination, and on the big screen in Robert Altman’s 1984 feature film adaptation.

A varied career followed, proved equally adept at drama and comedy, notching up nearly 200 film and television appearances, as well as more than 100 roles in the theatre throughout the six decades he worked. He never wanted to retire, even as he required an oxygen tank at times due to his health issues, and worked with for Paul Thomas Anderson on a number of films including Hard Eight, Boogie Nights and Magnolia plus the likes of Bruce Almighty, Zodiac and Argo*.

He famously showed up on Seinfeld as a hard-boiled detective pursuing a 20-year-overdue library book, lambasting Jerry. It was such a success that he returned for the series finale. And he went on to appear on Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Holly Wolfle Hall, the actor’s wife of nearly 40 years, on Monday said Hall died Sunday surrounded by loved ones in Glendale, California. Despite his health challenges, he had apparently been well until a few weeks earlier, and spent his final days in warm spirits, reflecting on his life. “His voice at the end was still just as powerful,” she said.

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