The Who2 Blog

The Great Bill Holden, +90

Actor William Holden would be 90 years old today. He was born in 1918, along with Nelson Mandela and former First Lady Betty Ford (both of whom survive; Holden died in 1981).

Holden is a bit on the forgotten side now, considering what a big star he was in his day. Were he in his prime now he’d be getting roles that go to Tommy Lee Jones or Robert Downey Jr.. (It’s easy to see Holden in the Jones role from No Country for Old Men, or to imagine a 1950 Robert Downey taking Holden’s part in Sunset Boulevard.)

Holden had leading-man power but seemed to thrive in key supporting roles and as part of ensemble casts. His career had tentpole moments most actors would kill for: the creepy Sunset Boulevard (1950), Stalag 17 (1953, his Oscar-winning role as a POW), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, blowing up Alec Guinness‘s bridge), the bloody landmark The Wild Bunch (1969, photo right), and then the prophetic Network (1976, another fantastic ensemble cast, with Peter Finch beating out Holden for the best actor Oscar).

Holden was still in casually fine form in his last film, SOB (1981), a screwball black comedy about the movie business. It’s a Reagan-era bookend to Sunset Boulevard, another film about people clinging desperately to their place in Hollywood. (Holden, incidentally, was the best man at Ronald Reagan‘s 1952 wedding. Here’s a nifty photo.)

Holden never had to cling to stardom in real life — maybe because he was never quite the city’s biggest star.

Holden is also featured in our loop Autopsy by Noguchi, thanks to the unfortunate circumstances of his death. (He died after a drunken fall in his apartment.) His death started the downfall of “coroner to the stars” Thomas Noguchi, who upset Holden’s friends by making the sad details of his death public.

More about Holden in our profile.

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