Bernard Hill, British Actor Featured in ‘Titanic’ and ‘Lord of The Rings,’ Dead at 79

“Arise, arise, riders of Rohan! Spears shall be shaken! Shields shall be splintered! A sword-day…a red day…ere the sun rises!”

So begins The Battle of Pelennor Fields, a centerpiece in Peter Jackson’s Best Picture-winning adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”. It’s a visually triumphant scene, with thousands of fighters on horseback and the horns of Howard Shore’s score lifting the sequence off the screen, but it’s Bernard Hill and his character King Theóden’s rousing speech to his troops that pulls the audience in and makes us a part of the action. That was Bernard Hill’s gift. He made things real. He offered a level of authenticity and commitment that transcends the screen and made movie-going a holy experience. Sadly, it was confirmed by his agent, Lou Coulson, that Hill died early this morning at the age of 79.

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Born in Manchester during World War II, Hill grew up in a Catholic family of miners, but turned his attention towards the bright lights of theater, film, and television at a young age. After attending Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama with fellow thespian Richard Griffiths, Hill earned his stripes performing in BBC dramas until finally breaking out in 1979 with his performance as Yosser Hughes in “The Black Stuff”, then later in the series “The Boys From Black Stuff”. His working-class Liverpudlian character reflected the anguish of many under the thumb of the Margaret Thatcher regime and his catchphrase, “Gizza’ job!”, became a rallying cry for those who protested her harsh policies.

His later career was largely defined by massive epics that allowed his talents global reach. In James Cameron’s romantic disaster film “Titanic”, Hill played Edward J. Smith, the ill-fated Captain of the ship whose choice to maintain speed made avoiding the iceberg impossible. His later choice to remain at the bridge as the ship sinks remains one of the film’s most dramatic moments. Hill was also featured prominently in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy as Theóden, the King of Rohan. Initially a sick, weak pawn in the hands of Saruman and his underling Grima Wormtongue, the character grows into one of the strongest and most honorable figures in all of Middle Earth. As played by Hill, he is a leader’s leader, sacrificing all for the sake of peace.

Hill is survived by his wife, Marianna Hill, and their son.

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