Ah, ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid the news is not good this week. Bob Hoskins, the beloved and burly character actor with an American accent so good you always did a double take when you remembered (or were reminded that) he was British, has died following a bout with pneumonia. He was 71.
Hoskins had built a solid career in his native U.K. playing Cockneys and gangsters and Cockney gangsters when he was cast in the role for which he will—perhaps justifiably—be best remembered: the hard-drinking, “toon”-adverse private eye Eddie Valliant in Robert Zemeckis’s 1987 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The movie was an instant classic, and Hoskins immediately became an icon to everyone with a certain sort of 1980s childhood. There are certain vistas in L.A. I still can’t drive by without hearing his whiskey-soaked voice in my head: “Dolores, I want you to go out and buy yourself a new swimsuit ‘cause you and me, we’re going to Catalina.” Oh, Catalina, hovering around the edges of Roger Rabbit like Moscow did for the Three Sisters.
But my favorite Hoskins performance was in a different film three years later: Mermaids. Based on the novel of the same name by Patty Dann, it was story of the peripatetic single mom Rachel Flax (played by Cher) and her two daughters, dour Catholic wannabe Charlotte (Winona Ryder) and swimming prodigy Kate (a cherubic Christina Ricci). Hoskins played Lou Landksy, a thoroughly decent shoe salesman who falls in love with Rachel. (It also featured Michael Shoeffling, aka Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles in one of his extremely few film roles, which should explain a lot to you about my abiding love for it.)
Mermaids received a fair amount of praise at the time (and a fair amount of coverage in the gossip columns about Cher talking her screen daughter Winona Ryder out of marrying her fiancée Johnny Depp. Cher apparently felt the then 18-year-old Ryder was too young to think about marrying anyone, and seriously, who isn’t going to listen to Cher?) But it’s been somewhat forgotten, if ever acknowledged, as a classic of Jewish cinema, despite being all about a Jewish family. I’ve always wondered if this has something to do with the characters themselves, who defy the comfortable stereotypes we’ve built up for ourselves over the years. Rachel Flax, fun-loving, sexy, utterly unconcerned with the psychological or nutritional well-being of her children (famously, she feeds them only hors d’oeuvres, no real meals) is about as far as from the typical hectoring/self-sacrificing Jewish mother as you can get. And Hoskins, as Lou, is no overly intellectual nebbish; he may be a menschy guy, but he’s also sexy, earthy, and decidedly working-class. He doesn’t shirk from Rachel’s colorful sexual history, or neurose over his feelings for her. He’s straightforward and sure of himself, a leading man in a short, balding, Jewish package.
It was a great gift, and it’s how I’ll always remember him.