Philip Baker Hall of ‘Seinfeld,’ and ‘Modern Family’ dead at 90

Hall’s wife said the beloved actor had been fine until a few weeks before, and spent his final days in a warm spirit, reflecting on his life.

NEW YORK – Philip Baker Hall, the acclaimed stage and film actor who starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s early films and who memorably hunted down a long overdue library book in ” Seinfeld”, passed away. He was 90 years old.

Holly Wolfle Hall, the actor’s wife of nearly 40 years, said Monday that Hall passed away on Sunday surrounded by loved ones in Glendale, California. She said Hall was fine until a few weeks earlier, and spent his last days in a warm spirit, reflecting on his life.

Wolfle Hall said: “His voice was still very powerful in the end. Her husband, she added, has never retired from acting.

In a career that spanned half a century, Hall was an omnipresent hangman whose apathetic, fatigued exterior could mask an explosive intensity and modest sensibilities. His range is wide, but Hall, who has natural powers, often plays men in suits, tank tops, and lab coats.

“Highly stressed men, older men who are at the limit of their tolerance for suffering and stress and pain,” Hall told the Washington Post in 2017. I’m destined for those roles.”

Born in Toledo, Ohio, Hall was initially devoted more to theater in Los Angeles, after moving in 1975, than to TV and movies. While filming small parts in Hollywood (an episode of “Good Times” was one of his first gigs), Hall worked with the LA Actors Theatre. There he played Richard Nixon in the one-act play “Secret Honor”, a role he reprized in Robert Altman’s 1984 film adaptation. Critic Pauline Kael wrote that Hall “based on the absence of a star presence and an actor’s fear of his own mediocrity in a way that seems parallel to Nixon’s feelings.”

Hall made an impression in the smallest of roles in other films, like 1988’s “Midnight Run.” But off-stage, Hall mainly played guest roles on television. That changed when he filmed a PBS show in 1992. Hall then met an assistant producer in his 20s named Paul Thomas Anderson. The two often hang out together, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee between scenes. Anderson, believing that Hall had yet to hit the mark in film, asked him to see a screenplay he had written for the 20 Minute Short titled “Cigarettes and Coffee.”

“I’m reading this script and I really can’t believe that kid wrote this,” Hall told AV Club in 2012. “I mean, it’s so brilliant, resonates with nuance. everywhere, like a playwright. Sure, as a movie, I’ve never really seen anything like it. It is amazing.”

After the $20,000 short made it to the Sundance Film Festival, Anderson expanded it to his feature film debut, 1997’s “Hard Eight,” which marked Hall’s career. In it, Hall plays a wise and polite gambler named Sydney who teaches a young man (John C. Reilly) the craft. In an indelible scene, Philip Seymour Hoffman first meets Anderson, a hot gambler who calls Hall “the old one.”

Anderson will cast Hall again as adult cinema mogul Floyd Gondolli, who warned porn producer Burt Reynolds about the future of the industry in “Boogie Nights.” In Anderson’s “Magnolia,” Hall plays Jimmy Gator, the host of a children’s game show.

Anderson told The Los Angeles Times in 1998. “I have a particular passion for character actors, with the desire to make them main actors. . . one of my favorite actors. There was no one else with a face like that, or a voice like that. “

To many, Hall is instantly recognizable for one of the funniest guest appearances on “Seinfeld.” In the 22nd episode of the 1991 sitcom, Hall played Lieutenant Joe Bookman, a library investigator who arrives after Seinfeld for a years-old copy of Tropic of Cancer. Hall played him as a hardened detective noir, telling Seinfeld: “Ah, I have a wink for you, Joy-boy: Party time is over. ”

Hall was brought back for the “Seinfeld” finale and by Larry David in “Constrain Your Enthusiasm”. David once said that no actor made him laugh more than Hall.

Among Hall’s many other credits are Michael Mann’s “The Insider” as producer on “60 Minutes” Don Hewitt, and Lars von Trier’s “Dogville.” Hall has appeared on “Say Anything”, “The Truman Show”, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Zodiac,” “Argo” and “Rush Hour”. Hall played his neighbor Walt Kleezak in “Modern Family”. His last performance was in the “Messiah” 2020 series.

Hall, who was married to Dianne Lewis for three years in the early 1970s, is survived by his wife, four daughters, four grandchildren and a brother. Philip Baker Hall of ‘Seinfeld,’ and ‘Modern Family’ dead at 90

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