Ian Holm Cuthbert was born on 12 September 1931 in Goodmayes, in Essex, to Scottish parents, James Harvey Cuthbert–a psychiatrist who worked as the superintendent of the West Ham Corporation Mental Hospital and one of the pioneers of electric shock therapy– and Jean Wilson,who was a nurse.
Holm was educated at the independent Chigwell School in Essex. His parents retired to Mortehoe in Devon and then to Worthing, where he joined an amateur dramatic society.
Henry Baynton,a well-known provincial Shakespearean actor,with whom Holm got acquainted after a visit to the dentist, helped him train for admission to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he secured a place in 1949.
His studies there were however interrupted a year later when he was called up for National Service in the British Army,during which he was posted to Klagenfurt, Austria, and attained the rank of Lance Corporal. In 1952,he took another break from school to volunteer for an acting tour of the United States.He graduated in 1953.
In 1965, Holmes played Richard III in the BBC serialisation of The Wars of The Roses, based on the RSC production of the plays and gradually he made a name for himself with minor roles in films such as Oh! What a Lovely War 1969, Nicholas and Alexandra 1971 and Mary, Queen of Scots 1971.
In 1976,after a severe case of stage fright during the production of The Iceman Cometh, Holm quit the theater and went on to work primarily in film.
In 1977, Holm appeared in the TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth as the Sadducee Zerah and the following year he played J. M. Barrie in the award-winning BBC TV series The Lost Boys, in which his son Barnaby played the young George Llewelyn Davies.
Holm’s film role that made a major impact in his career was of his portrayal of Sam Mussabini in Chariots of Fire (1981) which earned him a special award at the Cannes Film Festival, an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor,which he lost to John Giegud and a BAFTA award, for Best Supporting Actor.
In 1989, Holm was nominated for a BAFTA award for the TV series Game,Set and Match. He continued to perform Shakespeare, and appeared with Kenneth Branagh in Henry V 1989 and as Polonius to Mel Gibson’s Hamlet 1990.
In 1997,Holm appeared in The Fifth Element as Vito Cornelius and as a Lawyer,Mitchell Stephens, in The Sweet Hereafter. In 2001 he starred in From Hell as the physician Sir William Withey Gull and the same year, he appeared as Bilbo Baggins in the blockbuster film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, having previously played Bilbo’s nephew Frodo Baggins in its 1981 BBC Radio adaptation
He returned for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), for which he shared a SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. He later reprised his role as the elderly Bilbo Baggins in the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Martin Freeman portrayed the young Bilbo Baggins in those films.
Holm was married four times: to Lynn Mary Shaw in 1955 (dissolved 1965); to Sophie Baker in 1982 (dissolved 1986); to actress Penelope Wilton in 1991 (dissolved 2002).They appeared together in the 1993 BBC miniseries The Borrowers; and to the artist Sophie de Stempel in 2003.
He had two daughters, Jessica Holm and Sarah-Jane Holm, from his first marriage; a son, Harry Holm, from his second marriage; and a daughter, Melissa (Lissy) Holm and son, Barnaby Holm, from his 15-year relationship with the photographer Bee Gilber.
Holm died in hospital on 19 June 2020 at the age of 88. He had Parkinson’s disease for a number of years.