Bernard Hill obituary: Boys from the Blackstuff and Lord of the Rings star dies aged 79

Bernard Hill, best known for his roles in three of the most successful Oscar-winning films of all time, has passed away at the age of 79.

The two-time BAFTA nominated actor died in the early hours of Sunday morning, though the cause of death is not yet known. He had been due to appear at Liverpool Comic Con over the Bank Holiday weekend, only to cancel at the last minute.

Born in Blackley, Manchester, Hill attended Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama before getting his acting break in the 1970s.

A recurring role in the Granada series Crown Court (1976) was then followed by numerous appearances in series like I, Claudius (1976), Rooms (1978), Telford’s Change (1979) and Fox (1980).

However, Hill soon rose to prominence when he landed the memorable role of Yosser Hughes, a working-class Liverpudlian man who is ultimately driven to the edge by an uncaring welfare system in Alan Bleasdale’s Play for Today programme The Black Stuff (1980).

The one-off drama was later followed by a celebrated spinoff series entitled The Boys from the Blackstuff (1982) which followed up Hughes’s struggles for work in Thatcher’s Britain and his desperate attempts to cling onto his children. Hill’s acclaimed performance earned him the first of two BAFTA television nominations for Best Actor.

He later made a small appearance as Sergeant Putnam in the multi-Oscar-winning epic Gandhi (1982) and then portrayed the Duke of York in the King Henry VI trilogy (1983).

Throughout the next fifteen years, Hill continued to make an impact in film and television with notable roles including Cole in The Bounty (1984), John Lennon in John Lennon: A Journey in the Life and Joe in Shirley Valentine (1989) as well as parts in The Chain (1984), No Surrender (1985), Drowning by Numbers (1988), Mountains of the Moon (1990), Lipstick on Your Collar (1993), Olly’s Prison (1993), Once Upon a Time in the North (1994), and The Gambling Man (1995).

After appearing as Dr. David Hawthorne in The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), and the Engine Driver in The Wind in the Willows (1996), Hill then portrayed Captain Edward J. Smith, the ill-fated leader of the doomed RMS Titanic in the multi-Oscar-winning blockbuster epic Titanic (1997).

Roles as Warden Luther Plunkitt in True Crime (1999) and Egeus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999) soon followed before the Lord of the Rings trilogy came into his life.

As the defiant King Théoden of Rohan, Hill was lauded by fans during his appearances in The Two Towers (2002) and the eleven-time Oscar-winning finale The Return of the King (2003). Hill currently holds the record as the only actor to have starred in two of the most-rewarded films in Academy Awards history!

After the success of Lord of the Rings, he then went on to feature in various films including The Scorpion King (2002), Gothika (2003), Wimbledon (2004), The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse (2005), and Valkyrie (2008).

On the small-screen, Hill earned a second BAFTA nomination for his portrayal of former Home Secretary David Blunkett in the television drama A Very Social Secretary (2006) and played Steve Coogan’s father in the dark comedy series Sunshine (2008).

Towards the end of his life, his film and television credits included Five Days (2010), Canoe Man (2010), ParaNorman (2012), From There to Here (2014), Wolf Hall (2015), Unforgotten (2015), Golden Years (2016) and The Moor (2023).

Coincidentally, Hill is set to make his final on-screen appearance as Tom in the second series of the BBC crime drama The Responder, which airs tonight on BBC One.

Hill is survived by his wife, the actress Marianna Hill, and one child.

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