Seinfeld actor Philip Baker Hall dies aged 90

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Philip Baker Hall, the US character actor who had a much-loved guest role in the sitcom Seinfeld, has died at the age of 90.

Hall played a haranguing librarian who accused Jerry Seinfeld of not returning a long overdue library book in a memorable 1991 episode.

The actor’s turn proved so popular, he returned for the show’s finale.

Hall also starred in films such as The Truman Show, Rush Hour and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia and Boogie Nights.

Baker Hall with his wife Holly

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He played a CIA detective in Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning movie Argo and also had roles in Lars von Trier’s Dogville, Bruce Almighty and The Talented Mr Ripley.

Other TV credits included Modern Family – playing grumpy neighbour Walter – The West Wing and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Hall’s widow, Holly Wolfle Hall, said the actor died surrounded by family in Glendale, California.

The official Seinfeld Twitter account paid tribute to Hall, saying “his talent would be cherished”.

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Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, who was also behind Curb Your Enthusiasm, told the Washington Post in a 2017 interview that “Philip has made me laugh harder than any actor I’ve worked with”.

Speaking to the newspaper about Hall’s portrayal of Bookman, David said “he was so committed to that character that he had us on the floor. Jerry had problems getting through the scene”.

Anderson, whose films include this year’s Oscar-nominated Licorice Pizza, enjoyed a long professional relationship and friendship with Hall.

“I have a particular fascination with character actors, with wanting to turn them into lead actors,” Anderson told The Los Angeles Times in 1998. “I see Philip Baker Hall, he’s just… an actor that I love. There’s no one else with a face like that, or a voice like that.”

The pair met when Anderson was a production assistant on a TV film Hall was working on in the early 1990s, spending time drinking coffee and smoking together during breaks.

Anderson asked Hall to look at his short film script, which was actually called Cigarettes and Coffee.

“The writing was just absolutely astounding. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I truly couldn’t believe it,” Hall told the AV Club in 2012.

“Certainly, as a film, I’d never really seen anything like it. It was staggering.”

The short made it into the Sundance Film Festival and was expanded into Hard Eight, with Hall playing the role of gambler Sidney and signalling his big break as an actor.

Hall initially got the bug for acting while at the University of Toledo, his home city, but went on to become a US Army translator and a teacher. He didn’t pursue an acting career until he was in his 30s, moving to Los Angeles in his 40s.

William H Macy and Philip Baker Hall

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Hollywood star Mark Ruffalo, who appeared alongside him in Zodiac, tweeted: “RIP Philip Baker Hall. One of the greats. It’s been a gift watching you. It was an honour working with you in Zodiac. Kindness, generosity, humility, and great talent”.

Hall actually appeared in two Zodiac films – the 2007 version with Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr and 2005’s The Zodiac. Both were based on a true story about a serial killer in San Francisco in the 1960s.

He also enjoyed a career on the stage, including a production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo with runs in London and New York.

Hall also starred as disgraced former US president Richard Nixon in the one-man play Secret Honor, reprising the role in Robert Altman’s 1984 film of the same name.

Entertainment Weekly film writer Joshua Rothkopf heaped praise on Hall for his performance in the latter.

Hall is survived by his wife, four daughters, four grandchildren and his brother.

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