Bob Hoskins died on April 29, 2014, due to complications from pneumonia after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 71-years-young at the time. In an October 12, 1989, interview in the Philadelphia Inquirer he said in a Monty Pythonish nasal upper-class-twit British accent, “You’ve heard those actors who say, ‘When I was working with Lord Olivier’….” Then he switched to his Cockney twang and said, “But not many can say… ‘Back when I was acting with Bugs and Daffy and good old Roger Rabbit’…” In fact, Hoskins DID work with Laurence Olivier in the 1986 Paul Hardcastle music video for the song ‘Just For Money,‘ but he also shared the screen with Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Donald Duck, and Roger and Jessica Rabbit.
Bob Hoskins was born in Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk, on October 26, 1942. His mother was living in Bury St. Edmonds for safety from the London Blitz during World War II. Hoskins was raised in London. He had an interesting ‘coming-of-age,’ which included a job as a fire-eater in a circus. He spent two years in Syria, living amongst Bedouin tribes, and spent six-months on a kibbutz in Israel.
As an actor, he often played an archetypal ‘Cockney bully hiding a heart of gold.’ He made his stage debut as Peter in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ in 1969 at the Victoria Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent and he was very active in the British stage throughout his career. He described himself as, “Five-foot-six and cubic.” He often played gangsters on British television series in the early 1970s, although his first film role was as a police constable in ‘Royal Flash‘ in 1975. He played the sleazy rock & roll artist’s agent in the film based on Pink Floyd’s album, ‘The Wall.‘ He played in Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil‘ in 1986 and in ‘Mona Lisa‘ in 1986, for which he won an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA award. In 1987 he signed a ‘play or pay’ contract as a last-minute replacement to play Al Capone in Brian DePalma’s ‘The Untouchables.‘ Robert de Niro eventually came back into that project and Hoskins was sent a cheque for $200,000 to NOT play Al Capone. Hoskins called De Palma to ask whether there were any other movies that De Palma did not want him to be in. The cheque arrived while he was in San Francisco filming the bluescreen Toontown scenes at ILM. During that time, he was also writing the screenplay for ‘The Raggedy Rawney,‘ a WWII/gypsy drama that he directed and starred in, and which was released in 1988. He also wrote plays under the pen-name of Robert Williams. He said of Roger Rabbit, “It’s the toughest film I’ve ever done.” Nevertheless, he loved making it. He said, “I’m a cartoon nut! I love cartoons. I think they came to the conclusion that I was the most cartoonish person they could think of.”
There had been early interest in having Harrison Ford, Paul Newman, Bill Murray, or Jack Nicholson play the role of Eddie Valiant. Ed Harris and James Woods also auditioned for the part. Hoskins had just won BAFTA and Golden Globe awards for ‘Mona Lisa‘ and had been nominated for an Oscar as best actor. He was absolutely convincing in his screen test and he nailed the tough guy American accent. He was able to convincingly pull off the illusion of connecting with an ‘Invisible Man’ rabbit in the auditions. That ‘eye contact’ between the actors and toons was necessary to cement the conceit of the human/toon interaction. He credited that ability to studying his three-year-old daughter as she talked and played with her imaginary friends. By the end of the ‘Who framed Roger Rabbit‘ shoot, Hoskins was hallucinating and seeing imaginary toons for real… and had to take a bit of time off to get himself back to normal. And normal was… a very decent and down-to-earth guy. Everybody he worked with on Roger Rabbit tells of his good humor and willingness to do almost anything as part of the team effort of filmmaking. Even in a rare fit of pique, his good humor showed through. He had all kinds of cues and the distractions of puppeteers… and sometimes it got a bit much. Chief Puppeteer, Dave Barclay, heard him say, “Well, if you stick a broom up my ass, I can sweep the floor at the same time you have me doing these other things.” In a more reflective moment he said, “We had to work as a team, and that’s what I really liked about this picture.”
Hoskins was one of the favorite visitors to The Forum in Camden Town. The animators loved him. He visited in November 1987, when a small bit of panic was starting to penetrate the production, and some rushes were being shown. He was surrounded by a group of tall ‘Americans’ muttering, “Well, Bob, we’ve got so much to do and time is running out.” Hoskins thought about it for a moment and said, “Well, you don’t want to rush it and fuck it up!” Those who witnessed the scene could hear a pin drop.
Family was very important to Hoskins. His daughter, Rosie, was four-years-old at the time that Hoskins was in San Francisco filming the Toontown sequences. Bill Frake was part of the Glendale animation crew and responsible for layout. He was also at ILM to provide guidance during the filming of the bluescreen scenes. Frake’s wife and two-year-old daughter accompanied him for part of the stay. Hoskins missed Rosie and doted on Frake’s daughter. He had dinner one night with the Frake family at a nearby simple restaurant. It was his sense of humor and humility that endeared him to the crew.
Hoskins later played a cartoonish character as Smee in ‘Hook‘ (1991) and played a cartoon character, as Mario in ‘Super Mario Bros.‘ (1993). He also played many dramatic parts, in films such as ‘Mermaids‘ (1990), ‘Nixon‘ (1995), ‘Enemy at the Gates‘ (2001), and ‘A Christmas Carol’ (2009).
Many artists found very creative ways to honor Hoskins when he passed away on April 29, 2014.