Philip Baker Hall, legendary character actor and frequent collaborator with Paul Thomas Anderson, is dead at the age of 90, his neighbor Sam Farmer confirmed.
“My neighbor, friend, and one of the wisest, most talented and kindest people I’ve ever met, Philip Baker Hall, died peacefully last night,” Farmer wrote on Twitter. “He was surrounded by loved ones. The world has an empty space in it.” Hall had been suffering from emphysema for several years.
Hall appeared in Anderson’s first three feature films, starring in Hard Eight and joining memorable ensembles in Boogie Nights and Magnolia. He also booked one of the most memorable guest parts in Seinfeld history as library cop Lt. Joe Bookman, and had scene-stealing roles as a doctor in Curb Your Enthusiasm and a grouchy neighbor on Modern Family.
Born September 10th, 1931, Hall served as an Army translator in Germany, where a theater troupe director encouraged him to pursue his passion for acting. He made his feature film debut in 1970’s Cowards, and had intermittent success throughout the next decade and a half.
“If I had known who I was as an actor back then, my career probably would have been more successful,” Hall told The Washington Post in 2017. “You keep getting cast in a certain kind of role. It’s hard to break out of that.”
Hall caught his big break in his mid-50s after he was cast as Richard Nixon in Robert Altman’s classic film, Secret Honor. The one-man film followed the disgraced former president as he dictated for 90 minutes into a tape recorder. “Nixon is portrayed by Philip Baker Hall, an actor previously unknown to me, with such savage intensity, such passion, such venom, such scandal, that we cannot turn away,” Roger Ebert wrote at the time. “Hall looks a little like the real Nixon; he could be a cousin, and he sounds a little like him. That’s close enough. This is not an impersonation, it’s a performance.”