Lincoln Portrayer Hal Holbrook Dies at 95

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

By Edward Epstein

Washington, D.C.

Monday, February 15, 2021


Hal Holbrook, the award-winning actor who portrayed Abraham Lincoln in two television series and on stage, died at his Beverly Hills, California, home on Jan. 23. He was 95.


Holbrook was known for his meticulous characterization of Lincoln and of Mark Twain, who he portrayed more than 2,000 times over six decades in his one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight. For Lincoln, Holbrook -- who was 6 feet, 1 inches tall -- had special boots made with two-inch lifts inside so that he could appear just about as tall as Lincoln, whose Holbrook's research showed was exactly 6 feet, 3 and 3/4 inches tall.


The actor was also known for doing his own makeup. For Lincoln he told an interviewer that he transformed himself by emphasizing the president's deep-set eyes and high, sharp cheek bones.


Holbrook won an Emmy award for his portrayal of the 16th president in the six-episode mini-series based on Carl Sandburg's six-volume biography of Lincoln. The series aired in the mid-1970s.


In 1985, he again appeared as Lincoln, this time in North and South, another mini-series. And in Steven Spielberg's 2012 movie Lincoln, Holbrook appeared as Francis Preston Blair, the conservative Republican supporter of Lincoln who tried in vain in early 1865 to arrange a peace deal between the Union and the Confederacy. Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar as best actor for his portrayal of Lincoln.