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Actor Hal Holbrook, Who Embodied Mark Twain for Over 60 Years, Is Dead at 95

Holbrook performing as Mark Twain in 1984. Photo: Getty Images

Film, television, and stage actor Hal Holbrook, known around the world for channeling Mark Twain in a one-man stage show, died at the age of 95 on January 23. His death was confirmed by his assistant, Joyce Cohen, on Monday night, to the New York Times. Holbrook’s had a long, varied career in the arts. He played the mysterious source Deep Throat in All the President’s Men in 1976, earned an Oscar nomination for his grandfather role in Into the Wild in 2007, and worked with Steven Spielberg in 2012’s Lincoln. He had previously earned an Emmy Award for portraying Abraham Lincoln in a 1974 miniseries, one of his five wins for television acting. Holbrook had the range to be a regular on 1980s sitcom Designing Women and take on Shakespeare’s King Lear. Yet the actor is most known for his work as the writer with an acidic wit and poignant narration, Mark Twain.

The act began as a sketch featuring him and his first wife, Ruby Holbrook, but as he perfected the character, white linen suit and all, it became a one-man show. After touring across the country and performing on late night’s The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, Holbrook brought Mark Twain Tonight! to the Off Broadway 41st Street Theater in 1959. Seven years later, he won a Tony Award for his first Broadway run. Holbrook was only 29 when he started playing a 70-year-old Mark Twain. He continued to act well-past 70 himself, returning to Broadway when he was 80, until he abruptly retired from the role in 2017. Holbrook is survived by his children from his first marriage to Ruby, Victoria and David, as well as a daughter, Eve, from his second marriage to Carol Lee Rossen, and his late wife, Dixie Carter’s daughters, Ginna Carter and Mary Dixie Carter.

Actor Hal Holbrook, Who Embodied Mark Twain, Is Dead at 95