Although Bob Hoskins first became widely known to American audiences as a detective assigned to investigate a cartoon rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), the balding, burly actor had long been recognized in his native England as a performer of exceptional versatility, capable of playing characters from working-class toughs to Shakespearean villains.
Born in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, on October 26, 1942, where his mother had been sent to get away from the then-raging London Blitz, Hoskins was sent back to London with his mother when he was only two weeks old. Growing up in a solidly working-class family in post-war London, Hoskins stayed in school until he was 15, and he then abandoned formal education in favor of a string of diverse jobs. Over the course of the next ten years, he worked as a Covent Garden porter, member of the Norwegian Merchant Marines, steeplejack, plumber's assistant, banana picker, circus fire-eater, trainee accountant, and even spent time working on a kibbutz in Israel. At the age of 25, having garnered a lifetime's worth of unusual experiences, Hoskins got into acting. Hanging out at a pub one night with a friend who was auditioning for a play, he was asked to read for a part in the production. He got the part, and in the course of performing, was approached by an agent who suggested that Hoskins take up acting professionally and began arranging auditions for him. From there, Hoskins began acting onstage, working throughout the '60s, '70s, and '80s with such theatres as London's Royal Court and National Theatre and as a member of such troupes as The Royal Shakespeare Company.
Hoskins made his film debut in 1972 with a minor role in the comedy Up the Front. Three years later he got his first substantial film role in the forgettable Inserts, but in 1980, he made a significant breakthrough, turning in a brilliant portrayal of a successful gangster whose world suddenly begins to fall apart in The Long Good Friday. He found even greater success six years later portraying a gangster-turned-chauffeur assigned to a high-priced call girl in Mona Lisa. His performance earned him Best Actor awards from the British Academy, the Cannes Film Festival, and the New York Film Critics Circle, and a Best Actor Academy Award nomination. For all of the acclaim surrounding his work, it was not until he starred in the aforementioned Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in 1988 that Hoskins became known to a mainstream American audience. His American accent in the film was so convincing, that in addition to earning him a Golden Globe nomination, it led some viewers to assume that he was actually an American actor.
Hoskins could subsequently be seen in a number of American films in addition to those he made in Britain, appearing in such features as Mermaids (1990), in which he played Cher's love interest; Heart Condition (1990), in which he played an unhinged racist detective; and Nixon (1995), which featured him as another crazed law enforcement official, J. Edgar Hoover. In 1997, he returned to his roots in Twentyfourseven, earning a European Film Academy Best Actor Award for his portrayal of a man trying to set up an amateur boxing league for working-class young men in economically depressed, Thatcher-era England. Two years later, Hoskins turned in a similarly gripping performance as a caterer with a dangerous secret in Felicia's Journey, a psychological thriller directed by Atom Egoyan.
Hoskins continued to work steadily into the beginning of the next decade in a variety of projects including acting opposite Michael Caine in Last Orders and playing a supporting role in the Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan. He continued to appear in an eclectic series of films including Kevin Spacey's Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Seas, as a very bad guy in the martial-arts film Unleashed, the costume drama Vanity Fair, and earning strong reviews playing opposite an Oscar nominated Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents. He also lent his very distinctive voice to one of the animated characters in the sequel Gairfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. That same year he portrayed a movie studio chief who may have had something to do with the death of George Reeves in the drama Hollywoodland opposite Ben Affleck, Adrien Brody, and Diane Lane. He appeared in Disney's A Christmas Carol, Made in Dangenham, and 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman.
In addition to acting, Hoskins has worked behind the camera in a number of capacities. In 1989, he made his directorial and screenwriting debut with The Raggedy Rawney, a drama about a band of gypsies set during World War II. He also served as an executive producer for The Secret Agent in 1996.
In August of 2012 Hoskins announced his retirement from acting in part because he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He passed away after a bout of pneumonia in 2014, at age 71.