Tea Time Tidbits
Bob Hoskins: 1942-2014
April 29, 2014
 

It is with great sadness that we update this Tea Time Tidbit that Heather wrote in 2012 with the news that Bob Hoskins has died at the age of 71, after a bout with pneumonia.

 

Week of August 20, 2012:
Bob Hoskins retires

 

Bob Hoskins
Bob Hoskins.

Actor Bob Hoskins recently announced his retirement from acting after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The 1978 Pennies from Heaven drama series, in which Hoskins appeared as song sheet salesman, Arthur Parker, is still for me one of the all-time great British television imports.

Hoskins, whose grandmother was a Romany gypsy, was born Robert William "Bob" Hoskins, Jr. on October 26, 1942, in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. His mother Elsie, a nursery school cook, had been evacuated there after the heavy bombings in London. Two weeks after Hoskins was born, they returned to Finsbury Park in London to rejoin his father Robert who was first a van driver, then a bookkeeper at a large furniture removals company.

Life for the young Hoskins was that of a typical working class Londoner. He lived with his parents in a one-bedroom bathroomless flat, where his bed was a folding camp-bed in the front room. Living in North London not only gave a Hoskins the accent he'd forever be associated with, but it also gave him his looks. A knife wound he got as a cocky teen for mouthing off at some of the local hard core lads, for instance, left him with a hollow between the eyes. During another fight an attacker stuck a blade into his stomach.

Bob Hoskins
In The Long Good Friday
with Helen Mirran.

"That's what happened back then," said Hoskins many years later, "You got through it. You survived."

At school Hoskins had been labeled "stupid" by teachers who failed to recognize his dyslexia, so he left school when he was fifteen and despite the temptations of the glamour of London's gangland, he resisted the lures of getting rich quick through crime. This despite once being taken to meet the city's underworld mobsters, Ronnie and Reggie Kray who lived at their mother's council flat near Hoskins' home.

Instead Hoskins took a variety of jobs, including being trainee accountant, a Covent Garden market porter, a window cleaner, a steeplejack and a sailor. Once in the mid-sixties he even set off to a kibbutz in Israel where he spent four months farming bananas. He also worked as a camel herder in Syria, a crewman in the Norwegian merchant navy and a circus fire-eater.

Bob Hoskins
Pennies from Heaven.

About the only thing Hoskins didn't attempt was setting foot in a theatre school and he was always proud to boast that he never took one single acting lesson in his life. He had, however, always harbored a dream of being an actor and the chance came completely by accident one night when he was in a pub with a friend who was waiting to audition for a role with a local theatre group. By mistake, Hoskins was handed a script and told "you're next". His impromptu audition was good enough to get him the job.

Not long after, Hoskins got himself an agent and after a few more stage roles, he started to get cast in television and films. By the mid-1970s Hoskins was drawing a lot of attention with his television roles as Alf in On the Move, an educational series about a removal man who had problems reading and writing, and as Arthur Parker in Dennis Potter's musical drama Pennies from Heaven.

Hoskins was 36, when he made the award winning controversial BBC series, which he quickly followed up with his first major film role; gangster Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday, which also starred Helen Mirran. But while Hoskins career might have been on the rise, his personal life was in turmoil.

Bob Hoskins
With daughter, Rosa.

On his return from the Kibbutz in Israel in the mid-60s, Hoskins had married a schoolteacher, Jane Livesey, but the marriage was not a happy one. "It was an awful relationship", said Hoskins, "I wasn't mature enough for marriage. I married her because she had my son. We shouldn't have been together. I was a romantic and she was an intellectual." Along with Alex, who was born in 1968, the couple also had a daughter, Sarah, who was born in 1972.

The end came after Hoskins confessed to an affair he'd had in South Africa while making the film Zulu Dawn. The divorce was a bitter one. "It was the most awful time in my life", said Hoskins of the experience which he said "sent him off his rocker". Hoskins gives credit to psychotherapy for the eventual recovery from what was a nervous breakdown.

Bob Hoskins
With wife, Linda.

Hoskins met his current wife, Linda on July 29, 1981; the day of Prince Charles's wedding to Diana. As Hoskins remembered it, "I had made up this woman in my head and on the royal wedding day, when they kept the pubs open late, I walked into one place and there she was, Linda, sipping a G&T at the bar and I thought, "you are mine." He was so poor after his divorce from Jane, however, that he was living in his car, so he parked it in Linda's driveway in the hope she would invite him in. She did and now over 30 years and two children later the couple are still together.

Bob Hoskins
In Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

With the success of his marriage to Linda and his Oscar-nominated role in the film Mona Lisa, Hoskins seemed to be back on track emotionally. He was then given the role of acting opposite cartoon characters in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The intensity of having to work in front of a blue screen every day gave Hoskins splitting headaches and disturbing dreams.

"I'd wake up and keep hallucinating," he said. "I'd see weasels pulling people's hair. I thought I was going potty. I had trained myself to hallucinate and in the end it [messed] up my brain. I would be sitting, talking normally and suddenly a weasel would creep out of the wall at me."

Bob Hoskins
As Smee in Hook.

The stress of the role resulted in another breakdown and Hoskins was told by doctors not to work for five months. Ultimately he took a year off, something he could now afford to do as the film was hugely successful and Hoskins was now able to command seven-figure fees.

Now a favorite with children, Hoskins played the romantic lead opposite Cher in Mermaids and was Mr. Smee to Dustin Hoffman's Captain Hook in Hook. Hoskin's latest film - and what he announced would be his last film role - was as a dwarf named Muir in the Hollywood adventure film Snow White and the Huntsman which starred Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth.

Our thoughts go out to Mr. Hoskins and his family and thank him for the great body of work he produced over the years.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

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