Hoskins was born in Bury St Edmunds, West Suffolk on 26 October 1942 to Robert Hoskins, a bookkeeper and lorry driver, and Elsie (Hopkins) Hoskins, a cook and nursery school teacher. His grandmother was a Romani. From the age of 2 weeks old, he was brought up in Finsbury Park, London. Hoskins left school at the age of 15 with a single O-Level and worked as a porter, lorry driver, and window cleaner. He started on a three-year accountancy course but dropped out.
Hoskins’ acting career began in 1968 at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent. He played a servant named Peter in a production of Romeo and Juliet. In 1969, he worked at the Unity Theatre. One evening, he was waiting in the Unity Theatre bar for his friend, the actor Roger Frost, to finish an audition. Whilst drinking at the bar, he was given a script and told, “You’re next.” He got the part, with Frost ending up his understudy. Frost recalled that “Bob was a natural. He just got up on stage and was brilliant.” His first major television role was in On the Move (1975-6), an educational series intended to tackle adult illiteracy, in which he played Alf Hunt, a removal man who had problems reading and writing. Up to 17 million people watched the Sunday program, according to eventual producer George Auckland. Hoskins’ breakthrough television role came in the original BBC version of Dennis Potter’s innovative six-part fantasy-drama Pennies from Heaven (1978) as adulterous sheet music salesman Arthur Parker. Later, he played Iago in Jonathan Miller’s BBC Television Shakespeare production of Othello.
Hoskins’ performances in British films, such as The Long Good Friday (1980) and Mona Lisa (1986) won him the wider approval of the critics and, in the case of the latter, a Cannes Award, Best Actor Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He also delivered comic turns in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) and as Mario in Super Mario Bros. (1993). Hoskins was not initially aware that Super Mario Bros. was based on the popular video game of the same name. His son had asked him what film he was working on, and recognizing it, showed Hoskins the video game on the Nintendo video game console. Hoskins told The Guardian in 2007 that he regretted starring in Super Mario Bros. He revealed that despite being praised for his performance in the film, he was extremely unhappy with the film and greatly angered by his experiences making it, referring to it as the “worst thing I ever did”. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, he appeared in advertising for the recently privatized companies of British Gas and British Telecom (now BT Group).
Hoskins had a small role as a rock band’s manager in the Pink Floyd film The Wall. He was slated to be a last-minute replacement in The Untouchables if star Robert De Niro had not decided to play Al Capone. When De Niro took the part, director Brian De Palma mailed Hoskins a cheque for £20,000 with a “Thank You” note, which prompted Hoskins to call up De Palma and ask him if there were any more movies he did not want him to be in. Hoskins appeared as Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), for which he received a second Golden Globe nomination. Some of Hoskins’ other notable appearances include playing opposite Cher in Mermaids (1990), boatswain Smee to Captain Hook in Hook (1991), and as the same character in Neverland (2011), and Uncle Bart, the psychopathic and violent “owner” of Jet Li in Unleashed aka Danny The Dog. He returned to television in productions for the BBC, including Flickers, David Copperfield as Wilkins Micawber (1999) and The Wind in the Willows (2006). He played Nikita Khrushchev as a political commissar in the film Enemy at the Gates (2001). He received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Mrs Henderson Presents, a film he also produced with Norma Heyman.
Hoskins also directed two films, both of which he starred in; The Raggedy Rawney (1988) and Rainbow (1996). In 2009, he made a return to television in Jimmy McGovern’s drama serial The Street, where he played a publican who stands up to a local gangster. For this role he received his only Emmy when he won Best Actor at the 2010 International Emmys. On 8 August 2012, Hoskins announced his retirement from acting after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011.
Hoskins’ father was a communist and brought up Hoskins to be an atheist. In 1967, aged 25, Hoskins spent a short period of time volunteering in kibbutz Zikim in Israel, and also herded camels in Syria. In an interview, when asked what he owed his parents, he said, “Confidence. My mum used to say to me, ‘If somebody doesn’t like you, fuck ’em, they’ve got bad taste.'” When asked which living person he most despised, Hoskins named Tony Blair and claimed that “he’s done even more damage than Thatcher”. He made light of his similarities with film actor Danny DeVito, whom he joked would play him in a film about his life. With his first wife Jane Livesey, Hoskins had two children, Alex (born 1969) and Sarah (born 1972). With his second wife Linda Banwell, he had two more children, Rosa (born c. 1984) and Jack (born c. 1986). On 29 April 2014, Hoskins died from pneumonia at a hospital in London. He is survived by his wife Linda and his four children.
- October, 26, 1942
- Bury St Edmunds, United Kingdom
- April, 29, 2014
- London, United Kingdom