Philip Baker Hall, of Hard Eight and Seinfeld, dies at 90
Holly Wolfle Hall, the actor’s wife of nearly 40 years, on Monday said Philip Baker Hall died Sunday surrounded by loved ones in Glendale, California.
Philip Baker Hall, the prolific character actor of film and theater who starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s first movies and who memorably hunted down a long-overdue library book in Seinfeld, has died. He was 90.
Holly Wolfle Hall, the actor’s wife of nearly 40 years, on Monday said Hall died Sunday surrounded by loved ones in Glendale, California. She said Hall had 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,” said Wolfle Hall. Her husband, she added, never retired from acting.
In a career spanning half a century, Hall was a ubiquitous hangdog face whose doleful, weary appearance could shroud a booming intensity and humble sensitivity. His range was wide, but Hall, who had a natural gravitas, often played men in suits, trench coats and lab coats.
“Men who are highly stressed, older men, who are at the limit of their tolerance for suffering and stress and pain,” Hall told the Washington Post in 2017. “I had an affinity for playing those roles.”
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Hall initially devoted himself more to theater in Los Angeles, after moving out in 1975, than TV and movies. While shooting bit parts in Hollywood (an episode of Good Times was one of his first gigs), Hall worked with the L.A. Actor Theatre. There he played Richard Nixon in the one-act play Secret Honor, a role he reprised in Robert Altman’s 1984 film adaptation. Critic Pauline Kael wrote that Hall “draws on his lack of a star presence and on an actor’s fears of his own mediocrity in a way that seems to parallel Nixon’s feelings.”
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Hall made an impression in the smallest of roles in other films, like 1988′s Midnight Run. But outside of theater, Hall was mostly doing guest roles in television. That changed when he was shooting a PBS program in 1992. Hall then encountered a production assistant in his early 20s named Paul Thomas Anderson. The two would hang out, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee between scenes. Anderson, believing Hall hadn’t gotten his due in film, asked him to look at a script he had written for a 20-minute short film titled Cigarettes & Coffee.
“I’m reading this script, and I truly had trouble believing that that kid wrote this script,” Hall told the AV Club in 2012. “I mean, it was just so brilliant, resonating with nuance all over the place, like a playwright. Certainly, as a film, I’d never really seen anything like it. It was staggering.”